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Monday, March 06, 2006

Thomas Edison and solar power

Cyndy posted this great quote on her blog:
"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that." - Thomas Edison
Of course, four years of blogging during the aWol administration have made me a diehard cynic; I look every gift horse in the mouth. Here is the comment I left on Cyndy's blog:
Great quote! I googled it and found it quoted many times, but I never found out WHEN he said it. He lived until 1931. If he said it in his prime, I wonder why he didn't put his money and his genius to work on it. Was the stock ticker really more important?

Getting technical, his battle to use direct current (DC) for power distribution would have been greatly enhanced by photovoltaics, since they naturally generate DC and are a distributed power source (compared to a coal-fired power plant, which is fairly concentrated and most naturally generates AC power). Line losses are less of a problem for distributed sources, and line losses were the main reason AC won out in the end.

According to Wikipedia, Edison went to great lengths in his attempts to prove DC's superiority:

"Despite Edison's contempt for capital punishment, the war against AC led Edison to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric chair as a demonstration of AC's greater lethal potential versus the "safer" DC. Edison went on to carry out a brief but intense campaign to ban the use of AC or limit the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of this campaign, Edison publicly electrocuted dogs, cats, and in one case, an elephant to demonstrate the dangers of AC."

Too bad that effort wasn't devoted to developing solar power instead.