Kevin Bullis at Technology Review has a look at research into extracting electricity from clouds - Generating Power from Electricity in the Air.
Lightning is a powerful manifestation of the electrical charge that can accumulate in the atmosphere. New research, presented at the ACS meeting in Boston on Wednesday, suggests that it might be possible to harness that electrical charge.
Fernando Galembeck, of the University of Campinas in Brazil, has shown that water vapor in humid air can accumulate charge and transfer it to materials it comes in contact with. He says it might be possible to design collectors that exploit this behavior to generate electricity. The technology, which he calls "hygroelectricity" could provide an alternative to solar power in places without much sunlight but with a lot of humidity. It could also be used to prevent lightning strikes, he says, by draining electrical charge out of the air. He notes, however, that the research is very early stage and that such technology could be a long time coming.