The Golden Institute


Lightning Harvester


How do we decide which worlds come true and which worlds are discarded? While we are typically thinking in terms of novel possibilities or scenarios set in different futures, it is rare to attempt an imagined past that might have led to a different present. Positioned at the right spot in the past, such counterfactual histories might offer an understanding of the forces at work as well as a fresh perspective on our present challenges.

Stuart Packer as Douglas Arnd


The Golden Institute for Energy in Colorado was the premier research and development facility for energy technologies in an alternate reality where Jimmy Carter had defeated Ronald Reagan in the US election of 1980. Equipped with virtually unlimited funding to make the United States the most energy-rich nation on the planet, its scientific and technical advancements were rapid and often groundbreaking.

Its scope ranged from planetary engineering to the enabling of individual participation and profit from the creation of electricity. Notable projects include the development of the state of Nevada into a weather experimentation zone and the new gold rush in the form of lightning-harvesters that followed, or major modifications made to the national infrastructure in an attempt to use freeways as a power plants. The institute’s vision continues to inform the American consciousness to this day. In relation to energy preservation and harnessing, but also in terms of man’s relationship to the forces of nature.


The Golden Institute is designed to be a vehicle for an ongoing investigation into questions about energy, visions of utopia and present-day ecological challenges.


The Golden Institute

Model (1:400) of the Golden Institute for Energy in 1985, architect: Andrew Friend

Building on Project QUARTZ, the first car-based lightning conductors appeared some two years ago and since then have been a common sight in the ‘Thunder’ State of Nevada. The owners of these vehicles set out to the desert during one of our weather-modification experiments in order to catch a lightning-strike. If successful, they are able to sell the stored electricity at any one of the drive-through energy exchanges, which have opened around the zone.

Lightning Harvester

Model (1:19) of a Nevada desert Lightning Harvester based on a Chevrolet El Camino

One area of Project OPAL deals with harnessing the energy that is normally lost through braking when a vehicle exits the freeway on which it was traveling at a velocity of about 55 miles per hour. Today, many freeways have already been modified to allow high-speed exiting of freeways so that vehicles, equipped with magnets, will be gradually slowed down employing the so-called Lorentz force as they pass through a series of induction-coils. The coils are typically operated by a franchise like Chuck’s Café and if used effectively can get the driver a discount on a cup of coffee.

Chuck's Cafe

Model (1:500) of an induction loop-equipped Chuck's Cafe, Interstate 5 near Bakersfield, CA

The State of Nevada was officially re-generated into a weather experimentation-zone by president Carter as part of Project QUARTZ. This happened after the Institute had demonstrated that storm systems can be successfully seeded by detonating silver iodide-filled balloons at high altitudes, and their enormous energy contents be harnessed. In large-scale experiments , thunderstorms with heavy lightning strikes consistently develop. Using very tall lightning conductors in the Nevada desert, electric discharges up to the magnitude of 774 mega-joules are being harnessed and made available to consumers.

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Artist's impression of a geo-engineered cloud over Golden, Colorado