Can We Store Electricity from Lightning?

Mary McMahon

It is theoretically possible to store and harness the electricity from lightning, and several proposals have been advanced to show how this could be done. There are a number of reasons which make these proposals impractical, however. Lightning is simply not a good source of energy, and there are numerous alternatives which are safer, less energy-intensive, more effective, and readily available. In other words, just because humans can potentially and highly theoretically store electricity from lightning doesn't mean that they should.

A single bolt of lightening can power 150 million light bulbs.
A single bolt of lightening can power 150 million light bulbs.

On the surface, lightning seems to have a lot of potential as an energy source. It is totally renewable, which is a definite advantage, and it is readily available in some regions of the world. Furthermore, lightning has a lot of energy; a single bolt can power 150 million light bulbs. The idea of harnessing so much energy and storing it is immensely appealing.

Benjamin Franklin used a kite and a key to prove that lightning is caused by electricity, although he couldn't store the electricity.
Benjamin Franklin used a kite and a key to prove that lightning is caused by electricity, although he couldn't store the electricity.

There are a number of problems with trying to harness the tremendous energy of lightning bolts. The first is that lightning is highly unpredictable. There is no way to know exactly where and when lightning will strike, so it would be difficult to find a location to turn into a facility for processing lightning for energy. Lightning also delivers its energy all at once, which would require huge batteries and capacitors. Otherwise, the energy would simply blow out any systems established to capture it.

The potential instability in the supply of electricity from lightning is far less of an issue than the infrastructure which would be needed to support the energy collection process. Lightning is so powerful that it would overload all but the most sophisticated and heavy-duty systems, and the wisdom of building and installing such a system would be questionable if it could only harvest the energy from a few lightning bolts a year. Even in areas where lightning is frequent, the cost of the system would probably outweigh the benefit of getting electricity from lightning.

Humans may at some point develop a system which can cheaply and effectively collect and store electricity from lightning. Technological innovation is a natural part of human societies, and advances are constantly being made. 18th century humans would have been astounded by the things developed in the 19th century, for example. Such a development is likely to occur in the distant future, however, making it more important to focus on accessible sources of alternative energy like sunlight, wind, and water.

Lightning from a thunderstorm striking a field.
Lightning from a thunderstorm striking a field.

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Discussion Comments


Lightning does strike certain trees very often. It is usually because the tree has metal in it or in the ground under it. So problem one is getting lightning to strike one place is out of the way. Can you convert the lightning to ball and store it?


I'm new to this site. I'm doing my in electrical engineering and I want to be a scientist and make power stations which can harvest electricity from lightning. I think its possible because of Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment. The only problem is to make a stronger power plant and the fastest transformer.


What's needed is a widespread collection grid. What if every tall building, every radio tower, every wind turbine (around here they are on mountain ridges), had a lightning rod and cable capable of channeling the electricity to a step-down system and gigantic batteries?

I'm not saying that technology is developed yet for that, but come on, the energy source itself is free. I know the upfront costs would be huge, but the utility companies love to charge customers for the cost of their infrastructure "improvements" now.

If we could develop the technology to harvest this source on a national scale, it would basically be an unlimited power supply. Look at what we did with the interstate system. We need to think bigger, beyond short-term ROI.


The lightning strikes with enormous power so the cell may burst instantly before converting its energy.


Can't we store energy by making a big lead cell in the ground and making the lightning strike the cell and thus converting that energy to transmission lines? But the lead cell must be big enough. I hope this works.


The people owning large oil industries are obviously spreading the lie that it cannot be harvested for reasons that we all know. Someone should stand up and help all the others in society willing to help the rest in society. It would have been me had I had the knowledge, wisdom and age. (I am 18, by the way.)


This entire article sounds like a cop-out.

"We can't predict it." "Only the best systems could contain it."

I mean, build them, then, if they exist.

"...installing such a system would be questionable if it could only harvest the energy from a few lightning bolts a year."

And I imagine there must be a way to divide the energy so as to ground a portion and save the rest, yeah?

By the pattern of history, Tesla's experiments could have taken the world much further scientifically, but he met lots of opposition from self-interested corporations and withheld much because of political instability, fearing that his discoveries might over-empower any one nation.

Really, when it comes to science, being unable to fund such things is an excuse in the long run. Unfortunately, in order for mankind to progress technologically, we must progress ethically and morally, as well, or else we'll never be worthy of the powers we harness.


I had wondered the same for some time.

However, I think you could possibly force the lightning to strike a specific spot on command with something that could sterilize a path from the point of collection to the potential cloud. Use a high powered laser. That would cause a 'path of least resistance'. Couple that with some form of Mega-capacitors and a liquid sodium battery and you could have something. Problem is, I can only theorize over it. I'm not smart enough or have the money to experiment.


Solar panels that do not reflect sunlight have already been invented. I had a few solar patio lights that were shinny when new, then became brownish and stopped reflecting sunlight. They were still functioning at near full power. Sometimes it is wise to sacrifice a little efficiency in order to widen the fields of application.


Sometimes, you need to flip things upside down to take a closer look. Man-made objects can travel above the clouds. Once again we are using electric cars, and our toy stores are filled with electric flying toys. The important question is: Can a man-made storage facility (mobile or stationary) harvest a fraction of a lightning bolt without damages. If the answer is yes, then thunderclouds in earth's atmosphere will become the charging stations of flying aircraft. I can imagine jumbo flying batteries or capacitors.

As for solar panels, they simply do not look good.

President Regan removed them from the White House for that reason. We need solar slate that looks like real slate. Rectangular solar panels installed on top of trapezoidal and triangular roofs, create an ugly geometric collage. The least the solar industry can do is to make triangular panels as well that will allow a group of panels to duplicate the outline of a triangular or trapezoidal side of a roof. Right now Solar is still "square."

If my lawn is always brown, I should also have the option to replace it with artificial turf, like solar panels that look like artificial grass. Solar panels that do not reflect sunlight are the answer.


But lightning is static, correct?


Is it possible to store energy for later use?


On behalf of Ben Franklin, I will say "shame on you" modern men. It is not about harvesting lightning in one location, it is about a connected grid that can handle lightning wherever it strikes. Every new wind tower should have the potential to be connected to the grid. Every tall man-made structure should be "lightning grid" connectable.

If the power captured by the lightning rod can travel in multiple directions, capacitors will not need to be jumbo size.

Right now lightning travels from the rod to the ground, a fraction of that power can be sent back to the surface (after it leaves the grounded metal piece). Try it, you'll like it! Generatorblue


It's been proven that you can induce lightning. If you can manage a facility with the appropriate apparatus for handling the voltage and converting it into stored power, it's a very simple matter of shooting a model rocket with a wire attached into a storm cloud with potential to get lightning to strike pretty much where you want it. Here in Colorado, one of the deadliest states for lighting strikes, it would be incredibly easy to get predictable, induced lightning.


Channel harnessed power from lightning to huge, insulated copper coil towers which in turn would supply laser power to run many hybrid vehicles, hovercrafts and huge backup generators for hospitals.


can we split lightning by a lightning arrestor?


it is really overwhelming to find someone who is interested in it. See, the lightning is the free source of energy. if we develop the technology to harness it then the electricity demand that is prevailing over the world will surely be over.


Is it possible to transmit electricity by signal?

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