Friday, February 11th, was Thomas Edison’s birthday. At first glance, the great American inventor may not seem to have done much to help save the environment. After all, he developed the carbonized filament light bulb, which is now being replaced by more energy efficient models. He also created phonographs and motion picture cameras, the modern counterparts of which require electricity.
It seems that Edison played a big part in making modern society dependant upon electricity. However, before we judge him too harshly, it is worth taking a closer look at his work. Believe it or not, Thomas Edison was a pioneer in renewable energy.
Thomas Edison’s Interest in Renewable Energy
Back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Thomas Edison realized that our ravaging of fossil fuel resources could not last. In fact, in 1931, the year of his death, he told close friends Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” ~ Thomas Edison Quote
Edison could see the great potential in natural energy sources, such as wind and solar, and spent many years designing ways to harness the power from these sources. A relentless experimenter, Edison spent much time developing wind turbines, which could be used by home owners to generate their own electricity.
Thomas Edison and the Electric Car
In addition, Edison collaborated with good friend Henry Ford on the notion of an electric car, which could be run by battery power. This idea was pitched by Edison in the early part of the twentieth century, long before every household owned a car and our planet was filled with exhaust fumes.
Thomas Edison invented and built three electric powered cars, one of which was driven from Scotland to London (a distance of some 400 miles). These cars operated on a 15-volt battery and 30-volt electric motor, which was capable of top speeds of 25 miles per hour. It’s worth bearing in mind that although this may seem slow to us, for a car of 1912 this was an average speed.
The car was uniquely designed, as it lacked the large engine compartment of gasoline cars of the era. Unfortunately, only one of the three electric cars built by Edison has survived and currently resides in Essex, United Kingdom.
In many ways, Thomas Edison was ahead of his time. However, in the field of green energy, he was startling far-sighted. His visionary work on wind turbines and battery powered vehicles is still relevant almost 100 years after its conception. Happy Birthday Mr. Edison.