Power crisis is a definitive topic of debate in the near future. The slog to generate sustainable power is depleting natural resources at an alarming rate. These are all just pieces of a much larger picture. Lightning could be the deal-breaker for our power struggles.
Lightning is one of the most powerful resources nature could have thrown at us. Up to billion volts ripping the air apart at every strike and it strikes eight million times a day and a hundred times a second. What if this entire energy could be tapped in a network? We could get clean renewable energy from Mother Nature without all the hazardous techniques that we employ to generate electric power.
For centuries it was believed that charge separation in clouds caused lightning to occur. But, for current to pass through a small space of one cm or less it would require a potential difference of 25,000 Volts. With air as a medium of propagation and considering the miles the lightning has to travel before making It’s contact to the ground it would take few millions of volts to carry out an average lightning strike. Research and experiments revealed that even in Darwin, Northern Australia which receives the highest number of lightning strikes in a day, there was not enough charge in the clouds to make up these millions of volts that are actually required. So how does this happen? The credit goes to cosmic rays (high energy particles coming from outer space). The cosmic rays cause the air break down at a much greater level as they have greater mean free path and hence can be accelerated to higher energies. Thus they cause a relativistic runaway electron avalanche and hence ionize the air in the path making it electrically conductive and the enormous amount of voltage strikes through.
Now, If we could indulge in the thought process of imagining, sketching and figuring out a machine or a device that could eventually tap out some of the energy in the ionosphere and use the energy to produce the power that is needed, first at a small scale as a prototype and then take it out at much higher levels once a benchmark is attained, we would be effectively laying down plans for a much greener future. If we all take steps to invent machines to replace the machines that are currently affecting our environment instead of improving them fractionally, we could make this planet a much safer place for our descendants in years to come.