“The DC Conversion”: A More Direct Path to Energy Efficiency
There’s at least one “innovative” path to a more energy efficient world that’s actually been around for quite some time: direct current, or DC. It was Thomas Edison who recognized the power of DC electricity – electricity that flows in one direction – and used it to light up a few New York streets for the very first time in the 1880s using a generator he invented. But the so-called Current Wars of the late 19th century pitted DC against alternating current, and against Nikola Tesla’s patented alternating current motor (backed by the magnate George Westinghouse) – and alternating current eventually emerged the winner. Thus it was that America’s electrical grid was built around centralized power generation, and distributed across the country via alternating current. But in the 100 or so ensuing years, DC never fully went away. Now in this age of digital information, it’s present in more places than ever. Nearly all modern electronic devices, for example, require DC – from TVs, to phones, to computers and more – because the semiconductors inside of them require DC power. And those devices account for up to 20 percent of total power consumption today. But since our centralized power grid uses alternating current to deliver electricity, transformers are used to convert the electricity to DC for the devices that need it.