Electrification is indeed the single great achievement of our society. And yet, I was delighted to find out the modern power grid actually started in Massachusetts, a state I live currently.
In the late 1800s, technologies started to converge to build an electrified society. In 1882, Edison’s direct current (DC) system was built in Manhattan. Despite DC’s disadvantage (mainly short range due to efficiency loss), it was quickly adopted in communities around the country.
In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a very different system was being built almost the same time. It is called the alternative current (AC) system. William Stanley and George Westinghouse were the two names behind the AC system.
A war on power system (AC vs DC, Westinghouse vs Edison) started. Great Barrington at one time had both DC and AC systems installed.
Ultimately the AC system won. The reason is simple. AC systems can transfer very very long distance without losing much power. That advantage was built on one key and genius invention: transformers that can step up and down the voltage without much difficulty. It is also much easier to add another connection with the AC system. That is the system we have today.
Nikola Tesla also came onto the scene. Tesla invented a clever poly-phase AC motor that enabled the Niagara Falls hydropower system (a renewable energy source!). in 1896, the power from Niagara Falls travelled 20 miles to Buffalo. In 1906 and shortly therefore, transmission lines connected New York City.
Wow, what a history. I hope to visit Great Barrington soon. After all, it is just a short car drive away.
Here is a great video :