I, Rahul feel delighted to present to my dear readers an overview of a war which will bring to them the history of the modern power system in a nutshell.
Before we begin the analysis of battle between the Menlo park wizard and the Serbian American inventor, let me first introduce them.
Thomas Alva Edison known as wizard of Menlo park due to great deeds in field of electric power system, mass communication, sound recording, motion pictures, etc. His series of inventions include electric bulbs, phonographs and prominent work on batteries and rubbers. He is considered as greatest American inventor. Having his first laboratory in Menlo park, New Jersey, he is holder of a total of 1093 US patents in his name, as well as patents in other countries also. He was a man defined by persistence, patience and perseverance.
Nikola Tesla the Serbian American inventor was a talented and enthusiast electrical and mechanical engineer. Best known for his alternating current motor, Tesla although have total patents of around 300 worldwide, many of his
patents were later discovered laid hidden in patent archives and some even not put into patent protection. He had a wide field of work that included wireless power, bladeless turbine, polyphase system, X-ray experiments, radio
remote control, the tesla coil, etc. Tesla was a man defined by his dreams and a genius inside to carry them out.
The war of currents, soon you will get to know why currents, is the only war I think has bought something good to humans. Only with advent of technology it has been possible that we humans have developed such a large civilization in form of big cities that we know today. Imagine what would be the world without the biggest gift of technology, the electricity. No lights at night, no cooling system, no water in big buildings, without these three we don’t need to talk about anything else, but be happy humans are so smart that he would not let it happen.
So, let us again concentrate on how the battle between Menlo park wizard and Serbian American inventor had led to the world that we know now.
It was the year 1884 when a young enthusiast electrical engineer Nikola tesla hailed from Serbia to America to work in company of his idol Thomas Edison. Charles Batchelor had sent Nikola tesla with a letter of recommendation stating the great potential of this young genius to revolutionize the world with his ideas and
inventions. Nikola tesla in his first appearance to Edison committed to easily fix the dc generator in a ship installed by the Edison company and successfully did that. In no time, Nikola was able to win the position of distinguished engineer in the company. The company basically provided street lightening system including power required to operate them.
Now here comes technological part of this technical blog.
The electric power is carried by current which are either direct current, the dc or alternating current, the ac. In dc the electrons travel in a mean particular direction where as in ac the electron oscillates at a particular frequency at a position. The Edison company was dc power pioneer and was suffering from a serious technical problem, the dc which they utilized dissipated large amount of heat in transmission wires. So large number of power station and also in densely populated cities were required, close to the user. The solution to this problem was simple, increase the voltage and hence reduce the current and hence the heat loss. But at that time efficient voltage transformation was not there, we will talk about today’s scenario in the end. Nikola as expected came up with a futuristic solution to this problem, the alternating current system. And he just not came up with an idea he came up with whole layout of ac system, the transformer, the ac motors, ac generators, light, etc. Now these ac with help of a very lucid and efficient device transformer can be stepped up or down, hence reducing transmission loss and opening possibility of just one central power plant transmitting power to several thousand miles.
Now let us move back to war. Mr Edison ego and desire to be popular as Menlo park wizard led him to reject
the idea of his junior fellow, and asked him to just focus on improving dc generators, and promised him a handsome money for work after being done. Although tesla was dejected but he worked day and night on dc generators and came up with signifcant 10 improvements, but when time of reward came Edison said that Serbians don’t understand American humor.
Tesla immediately resigned and in coming few days had to work as trench diggers for Edison’s company. But diamonds and talented person don’t remain hidden for a long time. Tesla was able to impress some of investors and opened a lab in US, soon he completely developed his ac generators and motors. As expected, ac’s low loss during transmission gained it significant popularity in no time in market. Edison instead of trying to improve his dc system, focused to kill market for his new competitor.
He publicly displayed the fatal nature of ac by electrocuting dogs, cats and even bigger animals like elephants. His crummy experiments were not only limited to animals but he also electrocuted a prisoner, William Kemmler to death, which was very painful death for prisoner and shameful incident to human society. Nikola tesla had deep regret for all the barbaric experiments and havoc Edison caused by using his invention, but asked the mass to see the hopeful prospect of ac system.
Edison’s public stunts could not stop tesla’s investors to get the great Niagara hydroelectric power plant contract, first of its kind. Westinghouse company agreed to license his patents for the sum of $60,000, plus 150 shares of stock and a $2.50 royalty per horsepower generated by his AC motor , the $60,000 lump sum was worth roughly $1.4 million in today’s dollar (10,10,59,000.00 INR), but in coming time company faced a bankruptcy due to the extravagant propagandas against Edison, thus again Nikola Tesla was left with nothing. To let the company provide customers the ac power he refused to accept the patent sum and from there the uncrowned genius of millennium followed a life facing a mental disorder called ODC till his death in New York hotel in 1943. It was the simplicity of ac machines that had led to victory in the battle and the great inventor outshined his hero and the world has got a beautiful gift, the modern power system.
But I want you to consider another point of view and want you to get a moral from this war. It may sound strange but it’s a proven fact that for long transmission dc system can outshine ac transmission. This technology is called HVDC (High voltage direct current).
If we use ac we have to consider two losses that are still occurring after reducing copper loss, the skin effect and electromagnetic waves emission.
Skin effect: It’s tendency of alternating current to become distributed within a conductor such that current density is maximum at the surface of conductor and decreases with depth in conductor. The skin efect causes the efective resistance of conductor to increase at higher frequency thus reducing the efective cross-section.
EM waves: The transmission cables itself act as large antennas emitting electromagnetic waves in radio frequency, hence contribute to losses. Both of these signifcant losses are not present in dc transmission, and by use
of modern semiconductor physics dc voltage levels can also be transformed efficiently.
So, both the systems had their own merits and flaws, either of the currents could have won the war. But Edison instead of having faith and working on his own idea tried to pull Nikola Tesla down. Drawbacks remained with dc system and ac system soon find its way all over the world. Had Edison worked on dc we could have had more efficient power system and he had been the greatest of greatest inventors on the earth.
Moral: Focus on yourself and your ability and respect others talent and work too.
Thanks a lot for your precoius time and patience to read the blog.
Rahul kumar(2nd year, EED, SVNIT)
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