The home of tomorrow will run on direct current

In fact, the home of today primarily runs on DC. We just have all this AC stuff running between it.

Poor Topsy. Thomas Edison killed the circus elephant, electrocuting the animal to demonstrate how dangerous alternating current was. Edison even described electrocution as being “Westinghoused,” after the company promoting AC. It was the apex of the War of the Currents, where the evil Edison was pitted against the brilliant Nikola Tesla. It’s a battle that Edison lost, and all because of transformers, simple coils of wire that could change the voltage of AC and made long-distance transmission of electricity possible, unleashing the power of Niagara Falls. However in the longer term, it looks like Edison's direct current is winning the war.

An Ikea wall-wartLook around your house. If you have, like me, banished incandescent bulbs, what is running on alternating current as it comes out of your walls? Outside of your kitchen or laundry, you might have a vacuum cleaner or a hair dryer. Otherwise, every thing you own — from your computer to your light bulbs to your sound system — is running on direct current. There is a wall-wart or a brick or a rectifier in the light bulb base that converts the AC to DC, wasting energy and money in the process. IKEA was kind enough to put its device in a transparent package. How much of the cost of the $20 lamp covers the yellow transformer and capacitors and diodes in this little thing?

Alternating current made sense once; that’s why Edison lost to Westinghouse in the current wars. Alternating current was easy to transform to different voltages, and higher voltages mean you can carry more power longer distances through smaller wires. And we needed a lot of power to run those incandescent bulbs, which are really little electric furnaces that gave out about 4 percent of the energy used as visible light. The new labor-saving appliances had little AC motors. Even the old television set took a lot of power, firing up those vacuum tubes and big electron guns in the picture tube. All that power can be dangerous, so we have licensed electricians running dozens of lines back to circuit breakers, all with an extra conductor just as a ground wire. Oh, and we need outlets every 12 feet along the walls so that dangerous extension cords aren’t needed. Total it all up, and you have 400 pounds of copper in the average house. Back at the mine, it takes a ton of copper ore to make 10 pounds of copper, so it takes 40 tons of ore (coincidentally the weight of an average house) to make the copper for one house. About 40 percent of the copper used in America goes into our buildings and houses. There is also the worry that we are approaching peak copper, with production peaking about 2030.

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