Nikola Tesla was born in the middle of a lightning storm 158 years ago today. The 20th century visionary competed with Thomas Edison and had a long list of inventions to his name: the Tesla coil, alternating current electricity, an electric motor, radio, X-rays and envisioning of the first smartphone technology in 1901.
One of Tesla’s most ambitious projects was Wardenclyffe Tower on Long Island, New York. Tesla envisioned a 187-foot tall tower that would transmit free electricity across the Atlantic, with no wires.
But J.P. Morgan, Tesla’s then-business partner, cut off funding for the project before it could be completed and tested. Tesla sought European funders, but the Wardenclyffe Tower was never fully operational. It was demolished in 1917.
Today, two Russian physicists — brothers Leonid and Sergey Plekhanov — are raising money to resurrect Tesla’s ambitious project, Reuters reports. After scrutinizing Tesla’s diaries and plans, the Plekhanovs believe that with modern solar panels, lighter building materials and $800,000, they can rebuild Wardenclyffe Tower.
“We’ve conducted the fundamental research studies, implemented the computational models and designed all the parts of the experiment. We will be able to perform energy transmission and measure the results. Will it be ‘global’ as Tesla suggested? Based on the research that we’ve already done – we believe it will be, and we going to prove it experimentally,” the scientists wrote.
The Plekhanovs’ research estimates that an approximately 38,000 square mile installation of solar panels in a desert near the equator could generate enough power to serve the world’s electricity needs. Tesla’s tower could deliver that energy to consumers, but the only way to test the concept is to build it and find out, they say.
The brothers are raising funds for the project via an IndieGogo kickstarter campaign. As of this publication, they have raised over $33,000, or about 4 percent of their goal. (For a donation of $750, you can have your name engraved on the tower when it is finished.)
Critics say there are numerous engineering flaws to the brothers’ plan. Solar panels are still costly, and some estimate that the proposed solar panel field would cost $20 trillion — and that’s without the transmitting tower.