Wireless Power: Has The Time Come?

London, UK - 10th June 2010, 23:45 GMT

Dear ATCA Open & Philanthropia Friends

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

How do we reduce our oil dependency as a civilisation? Driving a Tesla roadster, the high-performance electric sports car, at high speed from City airport to Canary Wharf in London, it becomes clear that our oil dependency is manifest in the cars on the road, the aircraft in the sky and the boats gliding on the water. Not a single vehicle going by is without an exhaust! Here lies the problem. We fill the fuel tanks of our cars, aircraft and ships with refined oil and then breathe the smoke from these transporters as they burn dirty hydro-carbons along with many toxic chemicals, including some known to cause cancer. Not only that, but when the "black gold" is extracted from deep underneath the sea, we can get the Gulf of Mexico toxic gusher which we can't seem to stop. Did Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) -- the famous inventor of the alternating current power system deployed worldwide -- have the answer? Having won the Queen's Award for innovation, we have always been interested in new technology as well as ground breaking technology that time forgot.

Tesla: Reading in the Light of Wireless Power at Pike's Peak, Colorado, 1899

JP Morgan, JD Rockefeller and Henry Ford

With the discovery of electricity, everybody expected that all cars would be electric and run on rechargeable batteries. Tesla had gone one step further and actually produced a working automobile that ran on electricity taken from the surrounding ether like an antenna picks up radio waves. This would revolutionise travel just like his AC induction motor had fundamentally altered the industrial world. John Pierpont Morgan, John D Rockefeller, and Henry Ford were not pleased with Tesla's wireless power travel solutions. No gasoline engine meant no oil monopoly for the Rockefellers. Their Standard Oil Company was losing its key market of home lighting to Thomas Alva Edison's electric light bulb. The legendary investor and banker JP Morgan did not like the idea of wireless energy based travel -- road, air or sea -- because where would one put the meter to charge? He favoured the joint solution of Rockefeller's Standard Oil and Henry Ford's modern car based on the internal combustion engine for its clear income stream!

Wireless Power Road Travel

Observers at the time say that Nikola Tesla had an electric Pierce Arrow luxury car back in the 1930s, although there's some material published by rivals to discredit the project. This was no ordinary battery driven car because this car took its power from the ether, just like an automobile antenna picks up radio waves. The internal combustion engine was replaced with an 80 horse power electric motor. The power source was a black box of radio tubes in the glove compartment. The box had an antenna sticking out. Tesla would play with some tuners and tune in the right frequency to get power delivered through the air to his car. The car ran almost silently. He was sending the energy from the power plant wirelessly!

The "energy receiver" -- gravitational energy converter -- had been built by Tesla himself. It was installed in front of the dashboard. Among other things, the converter contained 12 vacuum tubes. A heavy antenna came out of the converter. The motor achieved a maximum of 1800 rpm. Tesla said it was fairly hot when operating, and therefore a cooling fan was required. For the rest, he said there was enough power in the converter to illuminate an entire house, besides running the car engine. The car was tested for a week, reaching a top speed of 90 miles per hour effortlessly. Its performance data were at least comparable to those of an automobile using gasoline.

An article published in the New York Daily News, April 1934, titled "Tesla's Wireless Power Dream Nears Reality" mentioned the planned "test run of a motor car over a stretch... from [Boise City, Oklahoma] to Farley, New Mexico" using wireless transmission of electrical energy to power the vehicle. The equipment was assembled by "two Californians" and is described as "including a high-powered radio transmitter with big coils and a short antenna." Several newspapers reported testing. When asked where the power came from, Tesla replied, "From the ether all around us!"

Wireless Power Air Travel

In the article "Nikola Tesla Tells How We May Fly Eight Miles High at 1,000 Miles an Hour" published in the Reconstruction, July 1919, Tesla spoke about a possible technological revolution in the transmission of propulsive power to aircraft "through the air."

"For years I have advocated my system of wireless transmission of power which is now perfectly practicable and I am looking confidently to its adoption and further development. In the system I have developed, distance is of absolutely no consequence. That is to say, a Zeppelin vessel would receive the same power whether it was 12,000 miles away or immediately above the power plant. The application of wireless power for aerial propulsion will do away with a great deal of complication and waste, and it is difficult to imagine that a more perfect means will ever be found to transport human beings to great distances economically. The power supply is virtually unlimited, as any number of power plants can be operated together, supplying energy to airships just as trains running on tracks are now supplied with electrical energy through rails or wires."

"The transmission of power by wireless will do away with the present necessity for carrying fuel on the airplane or airship. The motors of the plane or airship will be energised by this transmitted power, and there will be no such thing as a limitation on their radius of action, since they can pick up power at any point on the globe."

Wireless Power Sea Travel

In the article "Faster Liners is Tesla's Dream" published in the New York Sun, June 1935, Tesla spoke about the transmission of propulsive power to ships at sea "through the stratosphere."

"The principles of this high tension power, generated by shore plants and transmitted through the upper reaches of the air, illuminating the sky, turning night into day and at the same time supplying power, have occupied Dr Tesla's attention on and off now for the past thirty-five years..."

"There is a method of conveying great power to ships at sea which would be able to propel them across oceans at high speed... the principle is this. A ray of great ionizing power is used to give to the atmosphere great powers of conduction. A high tension current of 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 volts is then passed along the ray to the upper strata of the air, which strata can be broken down very readily and will conduct electricity very well."

"A ship would have to have equipment for producing a similar ionizing ray. The current which has passed through the stratosphere will strike this ray, travel down it and pass into the engines which propel the ship."

Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse

Before coming to the US in 1884, Tesla worked for about a year for the French branch of the Edison Electric Light Company. At that time, the most important "inventor" in the world was named Thomas Alva Edison, the so-called wizard of Menlo Park. Edison was credited with the invention of the Direct Current (DC) dynamo and the electric light bulb. The US manager of the French branch of the Edison Company advised Tesla to seek his fortune in the New World. Almost immediately after entering the US, Tesla went to work for Edison. The Edison Company was totally locked into Direct Current (DC) and wanted nothing to do with Tesla's Alternating Current (AC). DC had very severe limitations, and was not practicable for long distance electrical transmission. In alliance with Rockefeller and JP Morgan, Edison fought Tesla's system with hellish fury. Tesla quit the Edison Company. In 1888, Tesla held a lecture before the US Institute of Electrical Engineers in New York City. This lecture brought his alternating current system before the world at last. An inventor and industrialist named George Westinghouse brought Tesla's AC system to the world. When linked to Tesla's polyphase method of generating and transmitting electricity, this motor became the foundation stone on which the modern electrical power industry is built. In 1895, the Westinghouse Company and Nikola Tesla built the first hydroelectric alternating current system at Niagara Falls.

The War of the Currents

By 1897, the War of the Currents between AC and DC or between Westinghouse and Edison continued unabated. In 1895, Tesla's laboratory in New York City was totally destroyed by fire with Tesla miraculously escaping death. Huge mergers took place between JP Morgan and Rockefeller controlled companies like Thomson-Houston and Edison General Electric to form the present day General Electric company. This new General Electric tried to take over Westinghouse and force them to abandon AC.

Wireless Power Transmission

In 1899, in Pike's Peak, Colorado, Tesla demonstrated the feasibility of transmitting electricity through the earth without the use of wires. He transmitted 100 million volts of high-frequency electric power wirelessly over a distance of 26 miles at which he lit up a bank of 200 light bulbs and ran one electric motor! With a souped up version of his Tesla coil, Tesla claimed that only 5% of the transmitted energy was lost in the process. A Tesla coil is a special transformer that can take the 110 or 240 volts electricity and convert it rapidly to a great deal of high-voltage, high-frequency, low-amperage power. The high-frequency output of even a small Tesla coil can light up fluorescent tubes held several feet away without any wire connections.

Wireless transmission of electricity to all parts of the earth was the main objective of Tesla in the famous Pike's Peak experiment. Tesla discovered that the earth was a very good conductor of electricity and that he could set the earth in electrical oscillation just like the mechanical oscillation that almost caused an earthquake in Manhattan. Power was supplied to the primary coil by the local power station. The secondary coil was grounded to the earth, producing waves which travelled to the opposite side of the world. The returning waves were discharged through the atmosphere. When Tesla had demonstrated the feasibility of his wireless power system, he rushed back to New York to begin construction on a transmitter located at Wardenclyffe, Long Island, New York with the financial backing of JP Morgan.

Wardenclyffe Transmitter

In 1901, Nikola Tesla began construction of his now legendary Wardenclyffe Tower, a mammoth multi-stage Tesla Coil structure rising to 187 feet in height. The advertised purpose of this colossal tower was as a radio signalling station, but Tesla had secretly hoped to demonstrate that this facility could transmit power around the globe -- without wires. In the article "The Future of the Wireless Art" which appeared in Wireless Telegraphy & Telephony, 1908, Tesla made the following statement regarding the Wardenclyffe project on which he was then working:

"As soon as completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing, or print can be transferred from one to another place. Millions of such instruments can be operated from but one plant of this kind. More important than this, however, will be the transmission of power, without wires, which will be shown on a scale large enough to carry conviction. These few indications will be sufficient to show that the wireless art offers greater possibilities than any invention or discovery heretofore made, and if the conditions are favourable, we can expect with certitude that in the next few years wonders will be wrought by its application."

In the end, Tesla was never able to complete the Wardenclyffe plant because JP Morgan withdrew his support, although he was able to conduct some performance tests. JP Morgan quickly grew cool to wireless power technology upon discovering that there was no practical way to meter the electrical power delivered. An interesting feature of Tesla's World System for global communications, had it gone into full operation, would have been its capacity to provide small but usable quantities of electrical power at the location of the receiving circuits. He predicted that further advances would have permitted the wireless transmission of industrial amounts of electrical energy with minimal losses to any point on the earth's surface. Had he been able to complete the prototype station on Long Island and use it to demonstrate the feasibility of wireless power transmission then a plan would have been implemented for the construction of a pilot plant for this larger system at Niagara Falls, site of the world's first commercial three phase AC power plant.


Although there is some scepticism surrounding Tesla's work in wireless power, there is no doubt that he was a towering figure responsible for many key advances that enable the modern electric world. Shouldn't we revisit applications of Tesla's wireless power solutions? As we find ourselves surrounded by 21st century intractable challenges, there is a need to reconsider some of his seminal thinking in wireless power generation and transmission. We need to incorporate those ideas, systems and solutions into the innovation which humanity collectively seeks for the age beyond oil. Unless we are able to increase energy efficiency during transmission and utilise the power already generated, it is difficult to envisage how we may slowly begin to wean ourselves away from massive oil dependency. There can be no doubt that there are some vital answers lurking in the closet marked Tesla. This time round, with modern computing technology solutions at our disposal, wireless power might make even more commercial sense whilst reducing our dependence on oil at the same time!


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