While his most well-known effort was developing hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls, Tesla also offered dramatic ideas on how to harness the power of the sun, wind, tides, geothermal hotspots, and even cosmic rays. His biggest ideas related to extracting power from the water and the wind.
When still a boy, Tesla had experimented with small water wheels in local creeks. A little older, when he was studying engineering in Austria, he got his first taste of more sophisticated, but still preliminary, water turbines. After hearing a description of Niagara Falls, Tesla “pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the Falls” and declared that one day he would “go to America and carry out this scheme.” Many years later he would accomplish a much more advanced version of this dream using turbines and alternating current rotating induction motors of his own design. Niagara Falls would be the first of what would be many large-scale “power from water” generating stations.
Likewise, Tesla focused intensely on gaining energy from the wind. In his massive treatise, The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, he noted that the force of the wind was “very considerable” and could “be much more easily put in service” through the use of windmills. He argued that while some may not be able to afford a furnace in his house, he could always erect “a windmill on his roof.” While Tesla thought that other energy options (e.g., tides and waves) were not ready to be exploited in the early 1900s, windmills were “by far the better machine, allowing a much greater amount of energy to be obtained in a simpler way.”
That was over 100 years ago. But even more amazing is that the idea of gaining energy from the wind and water was being offered by Abraham Lincoln 50 years before that!
[Excerpted from Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate]
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.