Why can’t we harness lightning?

About a decade ago, standing on our balcony and watching the most beautiful lightning storm, my then 8-year old daughter asked me the same question.

What flashed through my mind first was how many people had been working on or thinking about that for how many centuries, but then a different thought flashed through my mind.

As a pilot fully qualified to fly through clouds I knew that lightning is created by wind. Inside thunderclouds, the wind is churning soo hard and fast, and rubbing water molecules together so fast that it builds up huge amounts of static electricity.

So I realized that wind is what causes lightning, Of course, lightning is random in every way, and you can not predict when, where or how much is going to pop out of the clouds. But if you just use the calmer winds, blowing across the countryside you can at least determine where and how much electricity you’re going to get.

So, wind generation produces electricity is from the same energy that makes lightning, and it never uses it up.

There’s only one small problem. Human uses of electricity are not just dependent on electricity, they are also dependent on WHEN the electricity is available, and in America the when is Whenever we want it. All we have to do is flip the switch or the breaker, and voila! The electricity starts powering whatever we wanted to.

A few minutes later, I had another epiphany. That was that the electricity wind could generate, if only there were uses it can flow through, was, in this case, potential energy that could be used for anything we use energy for.

My distinction and use of the words energy, and electricity as separate nouns is because there’s only one kind of electricity, but there are many other kinds of energy. The most prevalent uses we have for energy, outside of electricity, includes powering our vehicles and providing heat for homes, buildings, and industry.

When I realize that, in the case of wind-generated electricity, the electricity was no longer limited to our current uses of electricity, and could easily be expanded to provide many other kinds of energy that we are currently burning fossil fuels to create.

That is the evening when my decade-long passion for finding more ways to use, and/or store, that free, and unlimited source of raw energy, which in this case happens to be electricity.

A decade ago the thought that we would have more electricity than we could use was considered heresy among the wind generation people, who had long believed that they would make energy and it was the systems responsibility to buy it and figure out how to use it. O

Over the past four years, as this excess electricity situation has become undeniable, we are suddenly finding ourselves in a frenzy to implement ways to store that extra electricity, which is now coming from both solar and wind.

It is only within the last two or three years that the need for storage, and the desire to sell huge electricity storage battery packs, that there has been enough inertia and monetary support to push through the regulations that allow privately owned storage providers to access the wholesale electricity markets without paying retail for the electricity that they have to sell back at wholesale.

What I can finally share with you today, is that the evolution of appropriate ways to store the extra electricity that wind and solar can provide is and will continue to be the most rapidly growing energy sector. It is this new combination of energy storage and the increasingly more competitive wind and solar generation that will now lead us to a real low carbon planet.

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