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Q: Would it be possible to generate power from artificial lightning?

The original question was: Would it be possible to create a very dense cloud cover inside a laboratory under controlled conditions and generate “artificial lightning”? the Power output would be Amazing!! it would really help solve our energy crisis.

Physicist: Lightning is generated in the same way that static electricity is generated when you drag your feet on a carpet. A storm cloud or an ash cloud is just a whole mess of feet and carpet. As ash explodes out of a volcano it rubs together. Almost all of that kinetic energy becomes more heat, but a very, very small fraction becomes electrical energy.

It is entirely possible to create static electricity, and even lightning using this method. Van de Graaf generators, for example, use rubbing to generate voltages in excess of a 1,000,000V. However, it’s a very inefficient method for generating power. Dynamo generators (the standard generator) are surprisingly efficient.

Essentially, it would take a lot of energy to throw all that dust into the air and get it moving and, because you can’t get more energy out than you put in, it wouldn’t be worth it. In fact the electrical power you would get out would be tiny compared to the power it took to make it work in the first place. That being said, it would look pretty cool, so why not?

Artificial lightning (in miniature) is regularly created in places like NEETRAC at Georgia Tech.

This lightning is generated using capacitor banks (not rubbing stuff together, the way natural lightning is created) and is feeble by comparison to the real thing. Also, it isn’t used to generate power. It’s used to test the ability of new equipment and machines to survive lightning strikes.

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