TRANSMISSION OF ELECTRIC POWER TO GREAT DISTANCES WITHOUT THE USE OF WIRES -The transmission of electrical power through an open circuit made it possible to inventors and, especially, electrical engineers, to create devices capable of receiving electric signals over long distances. Radio transmitters, remote controlled boats and incandescent light bulbs are examples of such devices. Some would argue that light bulbs do need wires to function properly but that’s not the case when talking about wireless electricity. During the late 18th century and the early 19th century the idea of transferring electric energy wirelessly became the focal point of scientists and engineers. While some focused in perfecting the methods established before, some others, like Nikolai Tesla, came up with novel ideas to achieve the goal of transferring electrical energy over large distances.
Nikolai Tesla (1856–1943), a Serbian-American electrical engineer and inventor, had a life filled with experiences that shaped his behavior and character as an inventor. When he was young, Tesla dreamed of harnessing the power of the Niagara Falls. A dreamed which he achieved as a young adult by making generators that ran on his AC systems, which were placed at the bottom of the falls to create electricity. Thus, inventing the first hydroelectric plant in the world. Amazingly, those generators are still in use today. But this was not the only achievement he made. Among other important contributions to the electrical engineering field were his works on alternating current (AC) systems and resonance. AC systems revolutionized the electrical industry at a time when it was mostly dominated by direct current (DC) systems. The way alternating current (AC) generators work is by taking two out-of-phase coils and rotating them around a magnet, creating a magnetic field, the rotating magnetic field that is produced is responsible for the electricity that comes out of the generator.
Tesla’s approach of thinking how to solve many of the disadvantages of electrical transmission opened a way for more inventions. Among his inventions are: the radio transmitter, radio-controlled boats, X-rays, split-phase AC motor, Tesla pump, his Tesla turbine and, probably one of his most famous invention, the Tesla coil, or oscillating transformer. When talking about wireless energy and Tesla, the Tesla coil cannot be ignored. The discovery of electrostatic radiation emanated by the Tesla coil offered new possibilities to the transmission of power wirelessly. This device could light up electric light bulbs inside his laboratory without wires. Though at the time people believed this was witchcraft, this was achieved by means of electromagnetic induction. Electromagnetic induction refers to the changing magnetic fields that create electrical current, and vice versa, electrical currents generate magnetic fields. This device, named Tesla coil, could replace all the unnecessary and expensive wires that we use today. Unfortunately, wireless energy did not attract investors and it was soon forgotten. Nowadays most people use Tesla coils for entertainment purposes, such as musical devices and attractions in circuses, ignoring what these devices were used for.
Using wires to transmit power (electricity) is unreliable. Power lines carry electric energy over long distances, every time, and this happens often, one of these falls, entire neighborhoods are left without electricity. The use of wires also affects the environment. It takes time and space to build power lines and almost always these structures cross the natural habitats of animals. The path must also be cleared to install these towers, resulting in the destruction of everything that stands on their way. The construction of wireless energy transfer devices would be faster and there would be less damages to the environment. Electrical outages could be reduced with the use of these method of transfer of energy. Also, this poses an advantage over conventional electrical lines. This is because, in case of natural disasters, electricity and, especially, light bulbs would continue working, leading to less accidents and faster responses from the rescue teams. But how can this machine that produces wireless energy be used to power an entire city? The answer to this might be found deeply embedded in an electrical term called resonance. In this case, resonance refers to the synchronous vibration of the electromagnetic fields created by the oscillating transformer, and which does not depend on distance. Hence useful to wireless transmission of electric power over long distances.
Using the principles of resonance to achieve an efficient transfer of electricity is not only convenient but it can also mean that the earth itself can be used as a conductor of electricity. Previous experiments with resonance and high frequency electromagnetic radiation indicate that the earth and its atmosphere can conduct vast amounts of electric currents with little to no loss of energy involved in the process. These mediums, air and earth, are all around us and are ever-present, making them perfectly fit for this kind of work. An issue with wirelessly transferring energy through the air and earth by means of electromagnetic induction and resonance is that a Tesla coil would not work unless it was adapted to behave as an electrical circuit. This is an issue because of the low conductive properties of the air that make the circuit incomplete. Therefore, creating the proper way to delivering all this energy efficiently, that is, without the loss of significant amounts of the total product, and closing the circuit to complete the process of energy transfer requires a bigger Tesla coil and an adaptation to it.
As stated before, a Tesla coil can, potentially, be used to transmit current through the air by means of electromagnetic induction, but the air does not usually behave as a conductor unless there is very little atmospheric pressure. Tesla noted that “oscillating currents move through gases at low pressures” (Carlson). Keeping this in mind, a reasonable guess is that the atmosphere becomes more conductive at higher altitudes because there is less air pressure. Also, the layer of the atmosphere that reflects the electrical waves responsible to closing the circuit on the Tesla Tower is the ionosphere. The ionosphere is the electrified upper part of the atmosphere of the earth important for transmitting radio waves around the globe. Thus, it makes sense that the big oscillating transformer be in a place with high altitude with respect to sea level. This would not only increase the efficiency of the transformer but it would also expand the range of the electric power transmission.
Although the concept for this machine is attainable, and wireless energy may seem promising in the engineering field and, especially, in the business market, it failed in the 1900s and it will not succeed today. There are two main reasons for this. On one hand, we have the monopolies that run the electrical businesses. To compete against already established monopolies would make it impossible to create progress in the wireless field. On the other hand, the costs to building a Tesla Tower, with the characteristics of the one described before, would be expensive, but still cheaper than using wires, and would require an investment of more than 5 million dollars, plus there would need to be investors to make the Tesla Tower.
According to the report Capital Costs for Transmission and Substations, the total cost for the project of building a series of lines of transmissions and substations in 2014 was 712 million dollars (Pletka), which is expensive even for a wealthy investor or any electrical company. In contrast, the total cost of building a Tesla Tower these days is about 5 million dollars, including labor expenses, legal rights and maintenance. There are more advantages than disadvantages of switching to wireless energy transfers but unfortunately greedy corporations will not allow this to happen. Monopolies such as Southern California Edison (SCE), which controls the electrical business in major parts of the south of California, sees alternative energy transfer as a powerful competition. Considering that even SCE works with alternative energies such as geothermal power, hydroelectric power, among others, the creation of another alternative form of energy transfer would not be beneficent to SCE. In fact, if wireless transmission in a large scale becomes reality in the future, conventional electrical companies would be out of business because of the advantages of this alternative method. A way to addressing this problem is to build the Tower and make a contract with SCE to share profits of the revenue. This would allow both companies to ease any financial tensions. Another option is to let the company (SCE, or any other electrical company) build the Tesla Tower and charge people for the use of electricity. But there is a major issue with this, since this method of wireless transfer of energy works using the natural phenomena of resonance, and uses two natural mediums- air and earth-to carry out the transfer, there is no way that the electrical companies could charge people for the use of such services. In other words, the device is designed so that electricity flows through the ground and anybody can access it by sticking a terminal of an electric machine (e. g. a washing machine, TV, refrigerator, etc.), making the tower a machine of transferring electricity wirelessly and free of charges. Obviously enough, SCE, and other electrical companies that monopolize the electrical business, do not like that because it is impossible to make profit off this machine. It goes against its interests. A good example of this is what happened to Nikola Tesla in the 19th century, when he was building Wardenclyffe. In short, his investor, banker J. P. Morgan, stepped back from the project for the same reasons.
Wireless energy transfer offers many advantages over conventional energy transfer, it can reduce the costs of using wires without losing the efficiency of the electric power. This method is also more reliable than using wires to carry power, keeping in mind that the earth cannot be “down” during a storm. Maybe in the future, wireless electric transfer could replace all the unnecessary wires and power towers that damage the environment, but for now, even though this method of energy transfer is possible, is not attainable.
Tesla, Nikola. “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy.” Twenty-First Century Books, Century Illustrated Magazine, June 1900, http://www.tfcbooks.com/tesla/1900-06-00.htm. Web. Accessed 3 April 2017.
Carlson, W. Bernard. Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. Princeton University Press, 2013.
“Tesla Tower in Shoreham Long Island (1901–1917) meant to be the ‘World Wireless’ Broadcasting System.” Tesla Memorial Society of New York, http://www.teslasociety.com/teslatower.htm. Web. Accessed 2 May 2017.
Pletka, Ryan, Jagmeet Khangura, Andy Rawlins, and Elizabeth Waldren. “CAPITAL COSTS FOR TRANSMISSION AND SUBSTATIONS.” CAPITAL COSTS FOR TRANSMISSION AND SUBSTATIONS (2014): 4–35. Www.wecc.biz. WESTERN ELECTRICITY COORDINATING COUNCIL, Feb. 2014. Web. Accessed 23 Mar. 2017. https://www.wecc.biz/Reliability/2014_TEPPC_Transmission_CapCost_Report_B+V.pdf .