Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Solar Panel Freedom

In the 1880s there was a debate, nearly a feud, about the form of electricity to be used in American cities. Thomas Edison advocated the use of direct current (DC), while Nicola Tesla favored alternating current (AC). Obviously the AC team won the debate. This is the form of current that you get from a standard electrical outlet.

If Edison had won, then we would have no "electrical power grid," as we currently have. Because DC cannot be carried over long distances, we would have thousands of community power stations dotting the landscape. Some would be hydroelectric, some would be coal burning, some would use other power sources. Just like a community well provides water to a subdivision, a community generator would produce power for a small locality.

And it would be much more realistic to produce your own electricity at home. If your lights and appliances ran on DC, you could hook up your own solar panels, charge your own batteries, and power your home with complete independence. Even now you could power your AC appliances with a battery and a power inverter.

So why did we opt for AC? It's more dangerous, more difficult to generate, and requires massive infrastructure. (Of course solar power generation was not an option in the 1880s.) I have not researched the details of the 1880s debate, but here's what I think. The alternating current model for an electrified society provided more profit for industry and more control for power brokers (in both senses of the term). Centralized production and distribution of electricity was a golden opportunity for waiting to be seized. 

Politicians could regulate the industry, and industrialists could build the money-making apparatus. 

There would be little profit in small community generating stations. There would be virtually no profit in home-based power generation. And so here we are with a continental power grid, that is so interdependent that we have concerns about national security.

I think I prefer solar panel freedom.