Tesla and Edison were both right. The “war of the currents” was really not about whether alternating current was superior to direct current. It wasn’t really about Edison’s creation of the power utility as an enterprise to generate and sell electric power versus Tesla’s idea to make electricity free and transmit it through the air. It was about making it all run under one solution.
Yes, it was also about making money. But the major issue was standardization. The nature of direct current is that it loses power over distance. Alternating current does, but to a drastically lesser degree. As an example, in solar power projects, even small ones, there is a preference for AC wiring due to the voltage drop of the direct current output of the solar panels. There is a calculable system loss in efficiency in using dc wiring which everyone in the industry would like to avoid. This is the primary motivation for microinverters being attached to each solar panel.
The irony is that 100 years after the war of the currents, they were both right. AC will travel over long distances with very little power line loss. DC is extremely efficient, and in fact, most devices run on DC so we have billions of tiny power converters in our “stuff” to get from AC to DC. (ever count how many AC to DC power supplies you have in your house? You will be amazed)
In the end, you need both. And this is the very thing that is wrong with the political nature of having the DOE picking technology favorites. Or for many in the alternative energy camps, supporting one solution to the exclusion of all others. The fact is that for any technology problem, there is rarely one dominant solution. There are usually several solutions that several multiple applications.
The most obvious example is in the automobile. In the 1920′s the car market was divided equally between hydrocarbon fueled vehicles, steam power cars and electric cars. Not until Ford and Rockefeller agreed to lower the price of cars and gasoline did the others disappear. Now, 90 years later, we find that electric car returning to the marketplace as gasoline becomes more expensive.
In the energy sector, we need to drill for oil and gas, we need nuclear power plants, and we need solar and wind power to become cost effective before they can become widespread assets in our mix of energy supply. In automotive sector, we need high mileage alternatives to the piston engine, and there are several that have demonstrated 2 to 3.5 times the miles per gallon, in addition to electric and hybrid options.
We don’t need the government picking technology “winners”. Compact fluorescent lighting, as an example, is going to be a disaster when someone has to figure out how to prevent the mercury in the bulbs from getting into the environment.
So when it comes to solutions, we need more, not less. Edison and Tesla were both right.
Filed Under: Mechatronic Tips