Monday, March 15, 2010

Nikola Tesla's Alternating Current

Nikola Tesla's Alternating Current: Serbian inventor, Nikola Tesla, is often overlooked when examining the historical development of electrification. Having secured nearly 300 patents over the course of his life, it was clear that Tesla had a profound impact on the Second Industrial Revolution. Beginning in the 1880s, large-scale electrification efforts were underway in the United States. Thomas Edison supplied New York City with its first electric grid while George Westinghouse discovered the utility of copper as an electrical conductor. But it was Tesla who devised the theoretical basis for alternating current (AC), which made long-distance electrical transmission possible. Tesla's work, however, ignited an intellectual debate with Edison over what constituted the most efficient way to distribute electricity. Edison advocated a direct current (DC) system of electrical transmission, which called for a constant level of voltage throughout the grid. Tesla criticized Edison's DC system by citing the amount of electricity that went to waste while sustaining a constant level of voltage. In an AC system, transformers represented cost-effective devices for converting high transmission voltages into low utilization voltages. This idea, along with successful installations of AC power at Niagara Falls and Chicago, effectively ended the debate of AC versus DC systems.

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