AC vs. DC - The Battle of Currents Part-II
Posted on March 16 2019
By the end of 1882, Edison had already started installing his DC power plants around the city and acquired a large number of customers for electrical systems. Turning his great light bulb invention into a large profitable business. However, the fact that DC power could not be transmitted over long distances, and electrical power in the wires would drop to a such a low level, that only after a mile's distance from the DC generator it couldn't even lighten up Edison's light bulb.
Edison's historical DC Pearl Power Station. via nyhistory
Tesla and his 7 AC Patents
For many years Edison could not come up with a solution to this problem and he was keen on the idea "DC only" as the way forward, in the energy market. However, his employee, Tesla had other views and he kept on working on developing AC power system alongside his job with Edison.
One of the original Tesla's AC induction motor on display in British Science Museum, London. via teslasociety
As Edison and Tesla eventually parted ways in 1885, he opened up his own laboratory to further improve on his AC power system ideas and make it practical, and by 1887 he had achieved 7 patents for his polyphase AC motors, transformers, generators, transmission lines and light (source: pbs.org). His ideas were mind-blowingly-awesome and revolutionary; no one even challenged them and they got accepted.
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Tesla and Westinghouse's merger against DC
The best part of Tesla's AC power system was that the current and voltage in this system could be easily stepped up or down. This made transmission over long distances economically possible and efficient, without bearing any significant line losses. This meant with Tesla's AC system could power up entire cities and regions with just a single power station.
Tesla's AC generator at an Expo 1893. via wikimedia
George Westinghouse, another major character in this story, was an entrepreneur who quickly picked on Tesla's AC power supply methods and bought rights to his patents for $60,000. Tesla quickly accepted the offer as he had so many other ideas to work, invest and invent upon. He used most of his money in labs and experiments for the rest of his life.
The War of Currents - Edison vs. Westinghouse
A convenient and efficient power supply was now becoming a battle, which was then vastly known as "the battle of currents", and a major factor for this war was the coincidence of industrialization period in the US. Electrical power was becoming more and more important in the country as industries flourished and demanded power to run them. It was a battle to be won with rewards of getting contracts to supplying power throughout the country and gaining humungous amounts of profits. It was then Edison vs. Westinghouse.
Edison's infamous moves to suppress AC power's rising
Edison quickly realized the potential AC had and started lobbying against AC power. He started electrocuting stray animals in public places to demonstrate the potentially dead power AC had, in a bid to gain public support for DC power. Edison went to an extent that he, secretly funded the invention of the first "electric chair" which was then used - as a 'more human method of execution' by the New York State - to electrocute a convicted murderer in 1890. All this just to prove his point that AC power was dangerous and therefore everyone should just use DC power.
A contemporary portrayal of the electric chair which used AC power to execute Lemmer - A first. via historytoday
AC adopted as country-wide power supply
But things turned upside down when Westinghouse Corporation won the bid to power-up the then famous The Chicago World's fair held in 1893 (the first ever fair on electricity). Westinghouse bid won the contract by bidding $399,000 against Edison's joint-partner company General Electric's bid of $554,000. The exhibition also proved to be a vital showcase platform for Tesla's AC systems.
Niagara falls AC power plant. via davidjkent
The same year, Westinghouse also got a contract to construct a power system that generates electricity from the Niagara falls to illuminate the region. Then, in November of 1886, the whole of Buffalo was lit up from the AC power system, gaining AC the fame and superiority that it was then adopted as the general method of powering the entire country and beyond.
Although, this might sound like that the AC power system won the war, but if you look at it closely the war is still going on. Back then everything was then using AC power supply sources, but today in our modern world all of our electronics runs on DC power. Today AC and DC power are running side by side and more advanced methods like HVDC systems are already being researched and further improvements are being made. As we move towards the phase of automation, much of the industry is more reliant on computer automated electronics that run on binary digits - 0s and 1s, and need a DC power source; they simply cannot operate on AC power, as we already mentioned that AC changes directions - at 50Hz frequency in the USA.
A modern PCB. via ebay
So then who 'really' won the war? Well this is open for debate as at that time surely AC was all over the place after what happened, but then again in our modern world our digital systems heavily rely on a stable and secure DC power source. What do you have to say about this? Leave your comments below.