One of the most terrifying, destructive forces in nature may help keep your lights on. Louis Michaud, a retired engineer living in Ontario, Canada thinks he's created a tornado-powered generator. First, he'll create a raging tornado inside a massive cylindrical arena 100 meters high by pumping hot air into it at the base. Using intake tunnels lining the bottom of the arena, he calculates one of his Atmospheric Vortex Engines (AVE) could generate 200 megawatts of energy, or enough to power a small city.
As hot air rises from the base of the AVE it forms a vacuum, sucking in yet more air (which also has to be hot). The rising air also begins to rotate into that familiar and deadly funnel shape. Once up to speed, an AVE building would have a tornado extending miles into the sky, perhaps even altering local weather patterns and causing some extra precipitation.
The main issue is getting a reliable supply of hot air. Michaud says one of the best ways is to build an AVE next to an existing power plant and using the hot exhaust stream to power it. A solar thermal plant could work, too.
But new, innovative ways to renewably generate electricity are always going to have problems getting off the ground (pun, sorry). Especially when one of the world's largest consumers of energy, the United States won't even fund research into a clean-burning coal-fired power plant, or let solar energy companies build on public land.