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Happy Birthday Nikola!

It’s July tenth. It’s Nikola Tesla’s Birthday!

There’s plenty of talk about how we’re moving towards the two-way grid with electrical flows from both central stations and distributed power sources. Yes, we are moving towards this model. But we’re moving from the model of the last hundred and thirty years, Nikola’s model. Nikola invented the one-way grid with flows from central stations.

Absent Nikola’s model — absent Nikola — the history of the last hundred and thirty years and the nature of the world of today would be far different.

Put simply, Nikola Tesla made it possible to locate generators of electric power distant from the users of the electricity. So, generators could be large and at an economical scale — like the “groundbreaking” Niagara Falls hydro plant — to serve a region of users. Hence the term central station.

In the alternative universe, absent Nikola, numerous small uneconomical generators would have been built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, each to serve a small concentration of users — like the Pearl Street Station (which was groundbreaking in other ways). This system that Nikola overcame would have been less reliable and more polluting as well as more expensive. And infeasible for communities in the suburbs and rural America.

It might have taken decades more to electrify the cities of the south and west. Indeed, the remarkable growth of these sections of the country might not have taken place.


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Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly, and President, Lines Up, Inc.

E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com