Power Spikes

072502triglight2.jpgEnergy Storage is a means to smooth out intermittent power supplies or demands. It lets you shift the power from one time period to another. It lets you create a distribution system which sized for average load rather than peak load. The more isolated your power system the more you need all these. The electric power industry calls isolated systems island grids.

The book I’m reading describes an island with abundant power, via hydro, but lousy power due to local industry’s intermittent and high power requirements. So lousy that they were importing fuel to run generators just to raise that quality. In that case fly wheels were the solution. There are a few subway systems that take the power spikes from breaking trains and store them into flywheels to put back into the system when the next train starts up. There’s a huge flywheel at a mine in Alaska that buffers 5 megawatts of power every few minutes as a drag line they have jerks about.

Thinking about power spikes got be thinking about extreme cases. That’s natural for me since I presume that most sources of supply and demand have a very skewed distribution. For example the book includes an example of capturing power spikes from high wind gusts (which are quite skewed) by using fly wheels on an island off the coast of Japan. I wonder how large a spike that system can grab before it let’s it pass. Presumably it isn’t designed to absorb abundant energy from the few huge storms the island probably experiences every year. So there are power spikes the system is designed to survive rather than harvest. Which given the nature of highly skewed distributions means that a lot of the power goes untapped. Your typical wind power system harvests only the long tail of the wind, but not the elite wind.

So I got to wondering about lightning strikes. There is some great nutter material on the web about that. For example at the always amusing site “half bakery” there is a suggestion to running the lightning into an underground cavern and using it to melt tungsten. I love all these crazy ideas; particularly one that mix together other enthusiasms: kites, space elevators, or super conductors.

Poking around looking at these amusing ideas led me to this outrageous gimmick: a solution to an age old problem, the tendency for lightning to never strike twice in the same place.  Lightning rockets! You shoot a rocket into the storm trailing behind it either a wire or a conductive smoke trail. That’s fun to think about, but it’s much more fun to watch the short video!.

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