Growing up in the Anthracite Coal Regions of Pennsylvania I was steeped in the history of the region and the fact that Thomas Edison did much of his power generation and electrical lighting experiments in the Coal Region. Towns that bear names like Shamokin and Sunbury were home to some of the first electrical power generations stations in the world. The streets and buildings of these communities were some of the first lit in the United States by electrical power, and the first 3 wire electrical system was developed here in the Anthracite Coal Region. Edison and his experiments are the stuff of lore in this region, and even today an operating hotel continues to use his namesake.
The development of electric power and the advances that were made in this technology at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century would most likely not have occurred if it were not for Edison and another great inventor from that era by the name of Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla was a Yugoslavian born inventor who immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen and for a while worked for Thomas Edison in the development of electrical power generation.
Tesla was a genius in his own right and soon left the employment of Mr. Edison to go on and invent the Alternating Current (AC) system we still use today to light our homes and power our industry. Tesla won the day against Edison’s Direct Current (DC) by demonstrating the safety of AC current by publicly subjecting himself to 250,000-volt shocks. Unfortunately, his demonstration only added to the already growing label of being eccentric by the press and publications of his time-period.
The then present-day media chose to illuminate the works of Edison over Tesla considering Nikola to be temperamental and his thinking too far out there for the times. In some ways, current day media has tried to do the same and label Elon Musk and his many visionary ideas just as extreme and far out there as Tesla!
Musk has taken on some of the most significant challenges of the 21st Century such as mass production of the electric car by Tesla Motors; privatization of Space exploration with SpaceX; and the introduction and announcement of Hyperloop technologies for the underground transport of passenger and freight between cities. Each proclamation made by Musk always comes with a healthy dose of skepticism from the social media and press. The Los Angeles to San Francisco; and Baltimore to Washington, DC proposed Hyperloops have been greeted by headlines like “Is Elon Musk’s Boring Company Tunneling Into the Past, Not the Future?”. Despite setbacks, naysayers, and negative media splashes about his projects, Musk has proven himself time and again with some of the greatest achievements of the 21st Century.
Each time Musk has ventured into a new business and technology field, he creates a stir, and a new round of harsh criticisms are lauded against him from a variety of sources. These critics revel in the slightest failure or setback that Musk and his companies face hoping to be able to report on his miserable failure and generate the next big headline for their own capitalization. These reporters and self-appointed experts on Musk’s entrepreneurial ventures are like vampires sucking his lifeblood and then reporting on the perceived failure as if it were a corpse already dead and void of life in the interest of sensationalism. The latest criticism to befall Mr. Musk is that he is expanding too quickly venturing into other technology and business arenas which distract him and dilutes his past achievements.
What these skeptics, who delight in reporting on his failures, fail to realize is that every time Musk ventures into a new undertaking he creates competition and begins to revolutionize that industry spawning rivalry between companies that create a synergy promoting new technology development. Doubt this statement? Well, have you ever heard of Edgar Hetteen inventor and “Godfather” of the Minnesota snowmobile industry? Hetteen was a bit eccentric himself and an original founder of Polaris. Hetteen always the entrepreneur and inventor eventually left Polaris and founded Arctic Cat creating a technology cluster in Northern Minnesota that lead to the creation of thousands of jobs and an entirely new industry.
Hetteen himself once said, “There would be no Polaris and no Arctic today had I listened to the philosophy of the community. They, in theory, didn’t mind shooting the moon but they wanted to do it with a slingshot.”
I cannot think of a better quote to describe Elon Musk’s adventures in creating new technologies and revolutionizing industries. The general consensus is that Musk’s innovations are a positive thing for society’s advancements in these technologies but that his plans are too grandiose, his approaches too radical, and his obsessions too distracting. But as Mr. Hetteen stated, “They, in theory, didn’t mind shooting the moon but they wanted to do it with a slingshot.” The types of advancements that lead to new innovation cannot be done without the magnitude and type of ingenuity that Musk brings to his projects every day.
Despite the press trying to brand Mr. Musk as too radical at times he continues to enter each foray with the enthusiasm of a young child at play during Kindergarten recess. Analysts and pundits alike consistently try to point to Elon Musk’s failures in these ventures. The press talks about his inability to meet manufacturing forecasts for Tesla, or SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket explosions, or The Boring Company not being able to deliver on its promises of the Hyperloop. What these wantrepreneurs don’t realize it is upon these failures that are the foundation of his successes. The very fact that he has revolutionized these industries despite setbacks and failures gives testament that failure indeed is an integral part of what success is built upon.
In 1891 Tesla wrote, “We are whirling through endless space, with an inconceivable speed, all around us. Everything is spinning, everything is moving, and everywhere there is energy. There must be some way of availing ourselves of this energy more directly. Then, with the light obtained from the medium, with the power derived from it, with every form of energy obtained without effort, from the store forever inexhaustible, humanity will advance with giant strides. The mere contemplation of these magnificent possibilities expands our minds, strengthens our hopes and fills our hearts with supreme delight.”
Tesla’s words from 1891 were greeted with the same skepticism and criticisms of Mr. Musk today. He was labeled eccentric throughout his life, and at times his statements and ideas were considered unrealistic and not achievable. What Tesla was trying to explain to his contemporaries of the time was the idea of transforming from a fossil-based energy society to a renewable energy-based society that would be free to everyone. Conventional wisdom then dictated that energy could not be created without burning of fossil fuels let alone be free. Yet as early as the late 1800’s Nikola Tesla believed that power could be harnessed from the sun and cosmic rays.
One of the devices that Tesla describes in many of his experiments and scientific papers was a precursor to the modern day photovoltaic cell (solar panel). Tesla’s experimentation and studies revolutionized the world of electric power, and his work led to numerous patents, and inventions many of which that have been forgotten through time now collecting dust in the files of the U.S. Patent Office. Tesla firmly believed that power could and should be free and circulated around the planet using the earth’s magnet field and grid. Undoubtedly a farfetched idea for his time, but without a doubt entirely conceivable when considering his inventions in the context of today’s modern-day photovoltaics and what we now know about wireless technologies and transmission of energy wirelessly. Just consider the device you are reading this article on and how you can now charge it wirelessly.
Nikola Tesla promoted unlimited free energy for everyone long before our society began to mainstream photovoltaic systems. He believed as far back as the early 1900’s that we could generate clean, free electricity with simple solar or cosmic energy collection systems. Although Nikola Tesla was ahead of his time and his contemporaries in many ways, his ideas were not that far-fetched in relation to conventional energy technologies available today. Photovoltaic technology has been evolving to the point where various types of solar energy power systems are available to the average consumer at a reasonable price and can offset the cost of electricity coming from the public utilities power grid.
Thin-film solar cells can be used in various flexible applications. One such application is solar shingle roofing materials that can double as electricity generators for the structure. Imagine generating power for your home by installing a new roof made of solar shingles! Almost any new home can benefit from integrating solar shingles or siding into the new building construction. Numerous companies are manufacturing and installing solar panels today. Even older homes can benefit from this renewable technology, and the use of these products can offset your utility costs.
Another fantastic technology that Tesla promoted zealously was wireless transmission of electricity. Numerous efforts and research are being conducted in this technology, and it may not be long before we are able to charge electric cars thanks to the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technology Office research program. Nikola Tesla’s statement of 1891 does not seem so inconceivable when considering today’s advancements in solar technologies, and the ongoing efforts of wireless technology development,
One has to wonder just what would a conversation be like between Nikola Tesla and Elon Musk if they could have met? Think of how far mankind has come in harnessing what Tesla speculated was an inexhaustible energy source (Solar) free for man’s taking and humanity’s advancement. Like Tesla, Elon Musk is able to amplify his ideas and look beyond the horizon to see a future of his own making for the betterment of society. Thank goodness that Mr. Musk is able to ignore his detractors and continue to pursue his failures. Because without failure innovation stagnates and without innovation mankind’s progress stagnates with it. The number one lesson we can learn from Elon Musk is to embrace failure for surely it is the path to the future.
Author: Steve Bartos
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