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Jeff McFadden @homemadeguitars
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I'm not in the mood to talk about him. Want to go for a little ride down electricity lane?
2. Back when Thomas Edison invented the electric light, he was running everything on DC. Direct current. Like you get from batteries.
He didn't approve of AC - alternating current.
3. If you think about a battery, and two wires, and a light bulb, just for a moment...
Say you hook both wires to the bulb, and then you clip one to each side of a battery. What happens?
4. One of the wires takes on what we call a "positive" charge, from one end of the battery, and the other wire takes on a negative charge. OK, wazzat mean?
A negative charge means there is an excess of electrons there. Each electron is a little negative charged particle.
5. And the other wire is hungry for electrons. It's like two magnets - point the north pole of one at the south pole of another, and they are hungry for each other. You can injure yourself by sticking your finger in that space - they may just jump together and mash it.
6. What the chemistry inside a battery does, is, it sucks all the electrons out of one end and stuffs them all at the other end. They want to get back in balance, but the only way to do that is out one end, through a wire, and back to the other end. Where it happens again.
7. When all the electrons in a battery get back in balance, and the chemistry stops separating them, we call that a dead battery.
So - to go back to start - first we hook up one of the wires. Then we hook up the other, electrons start to flow.
Electrons and magnets are related.
8. When electrons flow in a wire, there is a magnetic field around the wire. When the electrons quit flowing, the magnetic field collapses.
You can turn that around.
If you move a magnet past a wire, at the instant the magnetic field moves across the wire,electrons try to flow.
9. You can calculate which wire will be positive or negative based on whether it's the north or south pole of the battery moving past the wire.
Oh, you can also hold the magnet still and move the wire.
10. Hold that thought.
Back to the battery and the light bulb.
So we hooked up our wires, and the negative side had an overabundance of electrons, and the positive side had a bunch missing, so the electrons flowed through the filament to correct the imbalance.
11. But the chemistry inside the battery kept sucking electrons out of one end and pushing them up to the other end, so balance never came, and electrons kept flowing, and the light shone brightly.
And the magnetic field stayed active, unchanged, except at the moment of connect.
12. And the moment of disconnect.
That's how Edison saw it.
He saw a world without a "grid" as we know it now, where the electricity was generated and consumed all in the same place.
13. That's because, for reasons I'm too lazy to spell out tonight, direct current does not transmit well over long distances.
Enter George Westinghouse.
Alternating current does transmit easily over long distances.
14. With direct current it's a matter of hooking one wire to the positive and one to the negative and letting the electrons flow.
With AC it's like you hooked them up, and then reversed them, so the negative wire became positive, and then back, rapidly. 60 times s second in US.
15. So the pressure of electrons rises, falls, reverses, rises, falls, reverses - it looks like this. The horizontal black line is zero pressure, zero electrons flowing.
16. And as the current rises, falls, reverses, rises, falls, reverses, the magnetic field does too.
And because of the magic of magnetism and wires, we can rejigger the electricity so it will travel over miles and miles of high line, and be tamed to work your clock radio.
17. Edison and Westinghouse were bitter rivals.
Edison referred to execution by electric chair as "Sending a man to the Westing House."
Not pals.
So what has this got to do with us, here, today?
18. Without AC, without Westinghouse (or maybe Nicola Tesla) we'd have never had giant, centralized, coal burning generating plants stuffing electrons down a national copper grid. We'd have had one in every yard.
19. In which case we would probably have gone over to solar power half a century ago.
Or wind.
Or all of the above.
I had a ne'er-do-well shirttail hillbilly relative who had the first electric lights in Cass County, MO.
He took the generator and battery from a Model A Ford,
20. And hooked the generator up to his farm windmill, and stuck the battery in a doghouse, and put the headlights in his living room and kitchen.
21. The reason solar power is "impractical" is because ...
Are you ready for this?
It won't work well with our grid.
Solar panels.
Batteries.
Each home.
DC equipment.
Solid state stuff (computers etc) all runs on DC low voltage anyway. That what wall warts are for.
22. Lead acid batteries are almost infinitely recyclable. They don't last forever, but they don't go in the landfill, either.
23. Our carbon footprint is in no way inevitable, and it is in no way necessary.
What it is, is, a few people make lots and lots of money off the current system.
We have this grid. Electricity flows one way and money flows the other. A few powerhouses sit on the grid
24. like spiders on a web, sucking the life out of the unwary.
Shelob.
We have a 36 volt farm chore cart, an old EZ-GO golf cart. About twelve or thirteen years ago I hung a solar panel on its roof, put some technical this-and-that in it, and we never plug it in.
Magic.
25. We've replaced the batteries once. They're about due again, but they're still usable.
6, 6-volt DC lead acid batteries.
No gasoline. Ever.
No oil changes. Ever.
No spark plugs. Ever.
It just works.
As a society, America is strikingly stupid.
--jeff out.
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