UK farm grows 1301 fluorescent light bulbs

Artist Richard Box' idea of a well-cropped farm involves 1301 fluorescent light bulbs powered by electrical fields running through the power lines above them. [via io9]

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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19 Responses to UK farm grows 1301 fluorescent light bulbs

  1. Bugs says:

    Rob: Yes, stealing. My physics lectures were a long time ago now, but I remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    Without getting too detailed (because I’d probably get the details wrong), the current flowing in the overhead lines creates an electromagnetic (EM) field. Fifty times a second, the current reverses direction. This makes the magnetic field collapse and reform in the opposite direction: each time the magnetic field collapses, the energy used to create it goes back into the power cable.

    However, when the EM field moves across the fluorescent tubes, it induces a current. The tubes release this energy as light. This energy then can’t be returned to the power cables.

    It’s probably a small amount of energy, but the farmer is deliberately taking power from the mains supply without paying for it.

    The amount it probably pretty trivial; fluorescent tubes use very little energy to run, especially when compared to the throughput of a pylon. Still, he’s taking a finite, saleable resource without the manufacturer’s/reseller’s permission.

  2. Scuba SM says:

    There was/is a practice among some farmers to string long coils of wire underneath high voltage wires to generate electricity. The power companies and the courts agree: it’s stealing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    i would love to see a time lapse video , i assume outside forces affect the electrical field and cause lovely patterns in the lighting?

  4. David Carroll says:

    Old. But worth repeating.

    When I first saw a while back I vowed to take a fluorescent tube or two and my camera over to my local electricity pylon and give it try.

    Thanks for reminding me that I haven’t done it yet, and probably should.

    It’s a neat effect.

  5. OM says:

    “Old. But worth repeating.”

    …Yeah. Wasn’t I getting my leg chopped off about this time last year when this was first posted?

  6. btb says:

    Of course, this is an artwork, perhaps he already has permission. Or maybe the law doesn’t apply to things like fluorescent tubes because they’re negligible enough.

  7. Chrs says:

    @#7, the land passes directly under the power lines. The owners of the land have agreements with the power company (voluntary or dictated by the government to prevent obstruction of a widely-useful good, perhaps), regarding the pylons.

    Airspace rights are limited, if you want to wander around to other less-direct legal precedents. Blocking off your neighbor’s view, sunlight, etc. are subject to legal restrictions in some places.

    In the extreme case, I guess, if you owned the land around someone’s yard, you could remove all the oxygen that dissipated naturally from their air into your airspace. This would asphyxiate them, and probably be unlawful.

  8. Anonymous says:

    @takuan — last I heard (which was a long time ago), the correlation between proximity to high-voltage power lines and leukemia is well established. Studies that actually looked at EMF exposure, though, found that the correlation was non-existent. (The EMF exposure varies a lot more than you would expect.) So basically, it’s known that living near high-voltage power lines somehow is correlated with leukemia, but nobody has any idea why.

  9. El Mariachi says:

    If someone is beaming an elecromagnetic field onto my property, I’m no more “stealing” it than someone’s plants are “stealing” the CO2 I exhale near them.

    This piece reminds me of the UVA installation used in this Battles music video, as well as Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field.

  10. strider_mt2k says:

    My mom lived right along a set of high tension lines years ago and I never had a chance to try this.

    Heck I would have strung some wire out there too if I could get a little battery charging out of the deal!

  11. Umbriel says:

    Two wild guess/hypotheses regarding a non-EMF reason for a correlation between power line proximity and Leukemia:

    1) Inhaled trace ozone

    2) Exposure to herbicides used to keep down weed & tree growth in the right of way

  12. btb says:

    How much power is he stealing, I wonder?

  13. Rob Beschizza says:


  14. Anonymous says:

    Yes, stealing… where do you think the energy in those photons comes from?

  15. dculberson says:

    El Mariachi, you may feel that way, but at least in the US, legal precedent has been set that it’s illegal to get power this way.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Here’s another link to an article about this installation.

    It rather makes me want to cover my house in tin foil. Sometimes when the dc metro goes by, my computer speakers (when the computer is off) blurt out the station stop announcements.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I have personally taken a fluro tube under HVPL. Fluro tubes act very strange in this situation … much stranger than you can imagine too. I’ve posted a fairly lengthy explaination here of my own experiments with fluros & HVPLs(just search for “sajowe” on the following page because as usual everyone has their own unproven thoughts about this whole phenomena):

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