How Much Electricity Does a Lightning Bolt Contain?

How Much Electricity Does a Lightning Bolt Contain? Have you ever wondered how much electricity is in a lightning bolt?

How Much Electricity Does a Lightning Bolt Contain?

Have you ever wondered how much electricity is in a lightning bolt?

Last week I wrote an article that discussed who invented electricity?  Many people commented thinking it was Benjamin Franklin.  While Benjamin Franklin did not invent electricity, on June 10th, 1752, he flew a kite during a thunderstorm to collect electricity in a Leyden jar.  Franklin’s “kite experiment” enabled him to demonstrate what he had suspected for several years, that a lightning bolt contained electricity.  Concerned about protecting people, buildings, and other structures from lightning, this experiment later lead to his invention of the lightning rod. 

Many people believe that the kite was struck by lightning, but it wasn’t.  If it had been, the lightning bolt would have burnt the kite and probably would have electrocuted him.  Instead, the kite was flown into a lightning storm and picked up on ambient electrical charge from the storm.  

All this talking about electricity and lightning got me thinking, about just how much electricity does a lightning bolt contain?  To my surprise, I found some pretty awesome information!

Below you can see a picture of Franklin conducting the kite experiment as well as the lightning rod he invented and a picture of a Layden jar.

Courtesy of the Franklin Institute, here Benjamin Franklin is shown conducting his famous kite expirement
Here you can see Benjamin Franklin's original lightning rod
Leyden jar
A Leyden Jar is a jar that captures and stores a high-voltage electric charge between electrical conductors on the inside and outside of a glass jar.

So, how much electricity does a lightning bolt contain?

Not all lightning bolts have the same amount of electricity.  However, a lightning bolt is estimated to contain more than one billion volts of electricity.  To put this into prospective, a single bolt of lightning has enough electricity to power a small town for an entire day!

How Hot is a Lightning Bolt?

As I mentioned above, in addition to answering the question about how much electricity is in a lightning bolt, I found some other pretty asesome facts about lightning.  For example, how hot it is. 

A lightning bolt is capable of reaching 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (27,760 Celsius).  If you have have ever gotten a sun burn, well, a lightning bolt contains five times more heat than the sun!  Can you imagine just how hot a lightning bolt is?  I think that much heat is impossible to imagine!

How Many Watts Does a Lightning Bolt Emit?

And while lightning strikes vary in strength, a lightning bolt can produce 1.21 gigawatts of power.  A gigawatt is a unit that is used to measure electrical power.  One gigawatt is equal to one billion watts. 

You are probably familiar with watts in reference to a lightbulb.  Household light bulbs found in lamps and lighting fixtures are likely to range from 60 to 100 watts.  While many people think watts refer to the brightness of the bulb, it’s actually a measurement of how much energy is required to power it.

So if a lightning bolt contains 1.21 gigawatts of power, how much power is that?  In terms of light bulbs, it’s enough to power about 12 million bulbs but a more practical measurement would be to say that a single lightning bolt has enough energy to power more than 850,000 homes or small town for an entire day! 

Lightning Comes in Different Colors

Another cool fact about lightning is that it can be any color of the rainbow.  Well, technically, because of it’s immense power, lightning is always white however it is often tinged with another color around the edges and so can display all sorts of colors such as red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and violet.  That’s why when you see lightning in the sky, it often colors the sky purple, blue, pink, or other colors. 

How Fast is a Lightning Bolt?

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “fast as a lightning bolt!”  Well, in addition to being extremely powerful, surprisingly hot, and colorful, lightning bolts are also unbelievably fast! 

The flash that we see when we see a lightning bolt travels at the speed of light, 670,000,000 mph.  However, the lightning bolt itself travels a bit slower than that.  But that’s not to say it’s “slow.”  An actual bolt of lightning travels at about 270,000 mph.  Yeah, that’s fast!

All the energy in a lightning bolt is discharged within about 50 microseconds.  To make that more intense, a lightning bolt is extremely narrow.  By the time a lightning bolt strikes Earth, it can be anywhere from one to seven inches in diameter. 

That’s some serious fast concentrated power!  Finding out all these cool facts about lightning brought me back to my days as a kid in science class and it made me think, what would happen if lightning struck an egg?  I know it’s a funny thought but much to my delight I was not the first person to ask the question.  I know it sounds crazy but I found an entire Reddit thread that discusses the odds of lightning-cooking an egg.

What U.S. Cities Get Struck By Lightning The Most?

The answer to this one kind was kind of upsetting since I live in Tampa and I thought Tampa was the lightning capital of the world.  However, Tampa didn’t even make the list of the top ten cities!  The ten U.S. cities that experience the most lightning density are:

1. Green River, WY
2. Rock Springs, WY
3. Dickinson, ND
4. Pierre, SD
5. North Platte, NE

6. Vernal, UT
7. Huron, SD
8. Spearfish, SD
9. Kirksville, MO
10. Hays, KS

How Many Times Does Lightning Strike Earth?

Lightning strikes Earth about 100 times every single second. That’s about three billion lightning bolts a year!  Naturally, since I write article for an energy consulting company, I started to imagine how many small towns or entire sities we could power if we could figure out a way to harness the electricity that is contained in a lightning bolt. 

Harnessing Electricity in a Lightning Bolt

Having answered my original question, how much electricity does a lightning bolt contain, I started to wonder if it was possible to somehow harness that electricity.

With so much focus on renewable energy, can we capture lightning’s electricity and transform it into a usable form to power well, every day things like your home, a manufacturing plant, light bulbs, and even your cell phone?

As usual, I was not the first to ask this question.  The concept of harnessing a lightning bolts electricity exists but according to MIT, it poses many challenges that have not yet been solved. According to a paper they released:

“Tall metallic rods extending high above the ground would do the trick, drawing any electrical charges in the atmosphere and directing them into a facility. But robust and dependable safety mechanisms would also need to be built to immediately contain the huge burst of energy and prevent the entire facility from being blown to bits.”

While we have not yet developed a way to use the electricity contained in a lightning bolt, we have developed ways to create electricty from the plentiful energy sources that surround us.

In nature, everywhere you look electricity is at work, it’s just a matter of harnessing that power. The most popular sources of natural electricity incude:

As demand for electricity grows, more and more businesses are establishing green energy or renewable energy goals. Installing your own means of renewable energy production, such as solar panels, is not only a large investment, but it can sometimes be challenging to offset your entire energy needs. 

For this reason, Energy Professionals has partnered with renewable energy companies, green energy suppliers, and wind and solar farms in local communities to help businesses with renewable energy goals source their energy from renewable energy production. 

To find out more about our renewable energy programs contact us at: (844) 674-5465 

Bonus Video About Lightning Bolts

And since we’re on the subject of lightning, I thought to include a bonus video of the 10 ten lightning strikes recorded by Pecos Hank, who has been chasing lightning for more than 20 years. Each of the ten strikes were captured by him. 

James Lightning

James Lightning
Senior Editor, Energy Professionals
(844) 674-5465
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