“The Current War” Then and Now

The Current War is a movie depicting the fierce early 20th century contest between electrical pioneers Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to determine whether Direct Current (DC) or Alternating Current (AC) electricity would power the homes and the rapidly growing industrial might of the United States.

Thomas Edison wanted DC current to prevail, because he had the patents and expertise to build the infrastructure for it. George Westinghouse wanted to sell AC to the nation, because he had acquired the patents for AC power generation from Nicola Tesla, the Serbian American inventor.

Westinghouse ultimately won the battle for a very good reason: AC could be transformed to very high voltage for long distance transmission with reasonably high efficiency, then transformed back to usable voltages at the point of usage. Edison’s DC could not be transformed at that time, resulting in the inability to transmit useful amounts of DC power beyond a few miles. Too bad, Thomas.

When Edison’s DC system reached the market in 1882, increasing its voltage to reduce transmission losses was far beyond the technology of the day. On the other hand, increasing or decreasing AC voltage – the version that Westinghouse was developing – required only an inexpensive piece of iron wound with a few coils of wire.

Westinghouse saw the revolutionary potential of this apparatus, which would soon be known as a voltage transformer, when he read a technical account of a system displayed at the 1885 London Inventions Exhibition. A much better business executive than Edison, Westinghouse realized that power could be efficiently transmitted over many miles at high voltage, greatly reducing the need to build power generating plants.

He obtained the American patent rights to the transformer and immediately formed Westinghouse Electric. It took another seven years, and the genius of Serbian immigrant Nikola Tesla– who invented a series of durable, adaptable motors that ran on AC, then sold the patents to Westinghouse – before people recognized that AC power provided energy much more cheaply than DC power. __ https://theconversation.com/the-current-war-directors-cut-shows-how-the-electric-power-system-we-take-for-granted-came-to-be-125916

More on this in the video below:

Thanks to Power Electronics We Now Have High Voltage DC

Things are different now. With advanced high power electronics devices, we can take high voltage AC and “rectify” it to high voltage DC (HVDC). This HVDC can now be transmitted over long distances, with even lower power losses than high voltage AC. Then, when needed, this HVDC current can be “inverted” and transformed to necessary voltages to allow synchronisation with the available AC grid at the destination of the long distance HVDC line.

Major components of a DC electrical transmission system. Realistic systems may also include a ground wire connecting the rectifier and inverter, which allows the device to function at half-power if one of the cables is damaged.

High voltage DC (HVDC) offers many advantages over high voltage AC for long distance power transmission. This is only true because of developments in high power electronic devices allowing for the rectification of high voltage AC to HVDC, and the inversion and synchronisation of HVDC to high voltage AC.

“One big advantage to HVDC is the efficiency of power transmission over long distances,” George Culbertson, vice president of power delivery markets for HDR, told POWER. “If the transmission line route is longer than about 300 miles, DC is a better option because AC lines have more line losses than DC for bulk power transfer.” __ https://www.powermag.com/benefits-of-high-voltage-direct-current-transmission-systems/?printmode=1

More on the details of interconversion between AC and DC at high voltages
Even more on HVDC

Can HVDC Reduce Risk of Wildfire?

It may be possible that the increasing use of HVDC transmission can reduce the risk of wildfire in certain situations, since HVDC lines can be more effectively buried underground — and since fewer conductors are used in HVDC transmission schemes.

There are various ways that electrical transmission and distribution can cause damaging wildfires:

    • Downed power lines
    • Contact with vegetation
    • Conductor slap
    • Equipment failure
    • Repetitive faults


You can see from the list above that the fewer conductors of HVDC transmission lines could potentially reduce fire hazard due to reduced risk of “conductor slap” and due to reduced risk of contact with vegetation.

Environmental Regulation Impacts on Wildfires

If environmental regulations prevent the proper clearing of vegetation from around power lines and equipment — as in California — the number of catastrophic wildfires can grow alarmingly fast.

Another way in which fanatical environmentalism can cause more wildfires is by the hasty installation of large numbers of wind turbines. Wind turbines are subject to spontaneous combustion at any time, and have been the cause of multiple wildfires in the US and Australia.

The number of wildfires sparked by these things grows by the day. Contrary to their ‘super-safe’, ‘clean’, ‘green’ image, giant industrial wind turbines are the perfect incendiary device.

Around the world, hundreds have exploded into in palls of smoke and balls of flame – in the process – each one raining molten metal and over 1,000 litres of flaming gear oil and hydraulic fluid (see our post here) and burning plastic earthwards. __ https://stopthesethings.com/2019/10/16/hometown-hellraisers-self-incinerating-wind-turbines-prove-perfect-wildfire-starters/

Affordable, Reliable Electric Power is a Life or Death Matter

Modern societies cannot exist without reliable and affordable electric power. Usable electric power undergirds every aspect of our critical infrastructures which keep advanced societies from collapsing.

The ability to keep power grids functioning smoothly is a thankless task, which is not made any easier by political activists and their legislative enablers, who are driven more by fanatical quasi-religious green ideology than by any genuine concern for the well-being of human populations. California’s many wildfires, its mounting electric power costs, and its inability to keep the lights on, should be a stark warning to other jurisdictions that may be considering following the same doomed path.

This entry was posted in Electrical Power Grid and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “The Current War” Then and Now

  1. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 11/03/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

Comments are closed.