Lightning in Our Environment
A typical lightning bolt produces about 10,000 amps but some bolts, such as the one that struck the Apollo spacecraft upon liftoff in the 60′s, have measured well over 100,000 amps. Nowadays, there are large capacitors and batteries which could store the huge amounts of electricity a lightning bolt creates, but would it be practical to try and harness it? Surprisingly, no. There is very little power in a lightning bolt when you compare it to how much power we really use in our homes and cities.
Harnessing Lightnings Electricity
We would be able to harness electricity from lightning but not enough from one lightning bolt to power a house for one month. The average lightning bolt contains about 250 kilowatt-hours of electricity. However, the average household uses anywhere from 500 kilowatt-hours to 1500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. So one average lightning bolt will barely power the most energy conservative home for half a month. Another way to look at it is, each house would need at least 4 lightning strikes per month to equal the amount of electricity they pull off the power grid. Just imagine how many lightning strikes would be needed for a whole neighbourhood, small town, or a large city.
BBC - Explaining Lightning
The Future of Harnessing Lightnings Electricity
While capacitors today can store huge amounts of electricity, most aren’t charged in about 0.2 msec, the time it takes for a lightning bolt to discharge its 1,000,000 kilo-volts of electricity. Conversely, these large capacitors are usually charged “slowly” and then quickly discharged in specialized applications (particle accelerators, lasers, rail guns, etc). If you only captured a portion of the electricity produced by a lightning bolt, then you would need more hits on a collection tower to make up the difference. One tower isn’t going to cut it, even if it’s 100 feet tall, that doesn’t guarantee a lightning bolt is going to hit it. You would need many towers stretching 1000 feet or higher spread over a very large area that sees many thunderstorms each year to increase the odds of capturing a lightning strike.