The War Of Currents Is Not Over Yet!

You can date back the beginning of the war of currents to around late 1880s. This was when Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla turned their superior-subordinate relationship into an infamous and publicised war. Tesla, a Serbian engineer immigrated to America and worked under Edison for about 2 years before quitting and joining hand with George Westinghouse, a long-time competitor of Edison. Together they began pursuing their belief in AC power while Edison stuck to protecting his refined discovery of DC thereby igniting the AC (Alternating Current) vs DC (Direct Current) war that’s ensuing to date. Let’s map the major events in this century-old battle:

The Discovery By Edison

war of currents

Thomas Edison set up Edison General Electric Co. in 1881 along with prominent bankers to begin research and development in finding an efficient replacement to gas burners as a source of light. He was able to refine the early work done by his predecessors in this field and discover the famous incandescent lighting system we know of, that ran on the direct flow of current. Edison’s discovery of DC was path-breaking but limited by the inability to control the voltage. This led to high costs of distribution.

Another Genius In The Field

war of currents

Nikola Tesla entered the scene with his plethora of knowledge from the education he had had. While working with Edison he suggested that AC can possibly cater to all the shortcomings of DC. Tesla’s proposal was bluntly disregarded by Edison. Tesla was already having difficulties with Edison’s tedious working style. Edison owing to his lack of formal education was unable to perform complex calculations. Hence Edison always relied on trial and error. Triggered by the dumping of his AC proposal, Tesla to quit and pursue his school of thought with Edison’s competitors.  

AC vs DC Power – A Comparison

Alternating Current (AC) Direct Current (DC)
Definition When electrons flow in an alternating direction through the conductor due to the rotating magnet along the wire. Electrons flowing through a conductor in a single or forward direction due to the steady magnetism along the wire.
Source AC generator utilises the energy from wind, steam or water turbines to spin a coil of wire inside a magnetic field, to induce current Previously coal and natural gas and now batteries or cells that provide voltage for the electrons to flow unidirectionally.
Voltage The voltage can be easily controlled by the use of a transformer. Controlling the voltage would require large, inefficient and expensive converters.
Transmission and Energy Loss AC power can be effectively transferred for long distances without significant loss of energy. DC power can be transferred but not for long distances as it would cause a significant amount of loss of energy.

war of currents

Edison’s Efforts To Tarnish AC

The growing popularity of a more efficient and cost-effective power source, AC worried Edison. So he began his public campaign to spread his disregard for AC. He tried to falsely accuse AC of being unsafe for transmission. In order to execute his plans, he electrocuted animals using AC and went on to contribute to the invention of an electric chair used for capital punishments for prisoners.

The Victorious Emergence Of AC

war of currents

Despite the negative press circulating at that time George Westinghouse successfully bagged the bid to power The Chicago World Fair in 1893. Also in the same year, his company was awarded the contract to set up a power plant at the Niagara falls thereby being able to power the entire Eastern United States. This can be noted as the significant event that led to the rise of AC and the fall of DC as a widely used source of power.

The Present And Future Of DC vs AC

AC won over DC in the war of transmission and distribution. But it still holds its dominance in the telecommunication and automobile systems. The digital revolution made DC irreplaceable. This made it essential for AC to be converted to DC before being consumed by your electronic gadgets. The discovery of methods to control the voltage of DC making it more stable, lead to the research of transmitting High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) for long distances. So it’s time to question if the war is over yet?