Philadelphia - North American
May 18, 1902
Startling Prediction of the World's Greatest Living Scientist in an Article Written for the Sunday North American
Lord Kelvin's article containing the astonishing prophecy that windmills wilt furnish the future power of the world was written expressly for the Sunday North American during his recent visit to the United States. It is the only article that came from his pen while he was in America. Emanating from a less famous source the prediction that one day the earth will return to its most primitive motive power would be received with little less than ridicule. In view of the fact that Lord Kelvin is beyond question the greatest scientific authority, as is shown by the reverence with which he was received by American savants, his opinion in this matter is of the utmost importance to the world at large.
In discussing the subject with a reporter for the Sunday North American, Lord Kelvin asserted that from the present outlook the windmill will be the only source of motive power to which man will be able to turn once the supply of coal is exhausted. Storehouses of power, such as Niagara Falls, he said, appear, upon their face, to be enormous, but when the tremendous amount of energy required to move the wheels of the earth's energy is considered, they sink into insignificance. Once the coal fields are stripped of their precious contents, he stated, efforts will doubtless be made to raise at least a partial supply of fuel upon the farms of the land. This is not so unreasonable as at first it seems. The farmers in Iowa and Nebraska, where coal is scarce and very expensive, are even now burning their excess of corn as fuel. The supply from this source, will, as Lord Kelvin points out, necessarily be very limited, as years go by and the population of the world increases. The supply of air, however, is inexhaustible and Lord Kelvin believes man will be obliged to have recourse to it as a motive power, just as he did hundreds of years ago.
Commenting on the motive power of the future, Nikola Tesla, the electrical scientist, agrees with Lord Kelvin that the world must one day fall back upon the force of the wind. Thomas A. Edison, who in addition to being the world's greatest electrician is a man of varied achievements, admits that one day the fuel supply wilt be exhausted. This day he believes will be exceedingly remote, estimating that the South American forests alone could provide fuel, in wood, for fifty thousand years.
When the last bit of fuel has been consumed, the wind may be utilized in generating electricity which will turn a good portion of the world's machinery. It is suggested by Professor Langley, in speaking of Lord Kelvin's prophecy, that the sun may one day share with the wind in furnishing power, if indeed it does not do all the work. Admiral Bradford, who has been busy for the past few years locating sites for United States coaling stations at the four corners of the earth, takes the most optimistic view of all. He believes that when the coal supply is exhausted some other means of furnishing motive power equally good will be found to take its place, and that the world will not be seriously affected.
Windmills Must be the Future Source of Power
by Lord Kelvin
(The only article written by Lord Kelvin during his recent visit to the United States)
To predict that the world's industrial progress will one day be halted and then rolled back in primitive methods is not a very daring prophecy when the conditions are studied closely. Coal is king of the industrial world. The king's reign is limited. Sooner or later, it has been estimated that the world's supply of coal will have been exhausted. The commission appointed to inquire into the all-important matter in Great Britain has even said that a few hundred years at the outside will see the last basket of coal taken from the mines of England. In other quarters the supply is rapidly diminishing.
The enormous amount of coal required to run our great ocean steamships, our leviathans of the deep, and the innumerable factories of our cities is making such inroads upon the available store that nature cannot forever supply the demand. When a11 the coal of the earth is used, what then?
Perplexed humanity confronted with the possibility of its industrial machinery being stopped for want of power, will be forced to turn from earth to air. In the world there is to be found a force that has stood man in good stead from time immemorial. Long before the days of the steam engine or the ocean liners, ships were wafted from shore to shore by means of the force that lurks in the air. The time will come, unless man's ingenuity devises some means of replacing the exhausted coal supply with a fuel that will be equally efficacious - when the swift steaming greyhounds of the oceans will be dry-docked and their vitals torn out.
Then the lightened ships will be fitted with the masts and sails of the old sailing days, and once more the seas will be dotted with vessels propelled by the method that is at present in decline. The day upon which the last shovelful of coal is taken from the bowels of the earth will mark the passing of the magnificent battleship, the swift cruiser and the torpedo boat. The navies of the nations will perish in a day for want of life-giving fire in the furnace rooms. In their place will arise white-winged fleets depending alone on their sailing power, as in the days of Nelson; the question of which ocean liner can cut down time of the passage from New York to Liverpool will no longer interest voyagers, for the trip will depend, as of old, on the favorable winds and the sailing capacity of the ship.
On land the effect of the exhaustion of the coal supply will be even more marked than on sea. Every building could be supplied with its own windmill, to use the motive power that wanders where it "listeth on its roof top to turn wheels that will tiff its elevators, generate electricity for its machinery, pump its water supply and do all that coal now makes possible in the machine room; sails on our factories, sails on our mills and in our shipyards to catch the slightest breath that blows and turn it into a means of moving the wheels of progress; wind power utilized everywhere as the servant of man, free for every one, working silently as a great force while the world sleeps. Possibly the exhaustion of the coal supply of the earth may turn out to be something of a blessing when it is considered how difficult and dangerous it is to wrest from the ground the hidden resources of nature for use as fuel, and how natural and easy it is to make the power of wind do the work now done by coal.
Then, in the great land changes of the Goalless age I see vast fields of vegetation planted especially to serve as fuel. Each agriculturist will have his own reservation where the family fuel will be grown; a new industry will be born – the cultivation of fuel.
Water power will be largely useful, but the power to be derived from this source is not very great. Niagara is a vast force to look at, but measured in the horsepower it is not so tremendous. The tides cannot furnish any power worth speaking of; firewood must do much more.
Achievements that have made Lord Kelvin Famous
- He Established the Doctrine of the Conservation of Energy.
- His Siphon Recorder Made Transatlantic Telegraphy Feasible-
- Business Man and Able Politician
It is not exaggeration to say that no living scientist ranks higher than Lord Kelvin. His fame is world-wide. The savants of all countries recognize in him the greatest of physicists, and the rare combinations of an abstruse thinker and a practical inventor.
Merely to mention a few of the directions in which he has achieved success is to show the extraordinary activity that has marked his career. His fame as an electrician almost equals his eminence as a physicist. He is an unequaled mathematician, the inventor of a hundred valuable devices, which are in daily use, a great teacher, an expounder of popular science, and a clever and successful politician.
What he has done in any one of these lines would suffice to make a proud reputation, and in addition he has found time to be a keen business man and to build up a considerable fortune.
And all this is the achievement of a man who started poor and had his own way to make practically without assistance.
Kelvin, then plain William Thomson, first became noted for the part he played in the invention and installation of the Atlantic cable.
This was in 1857. The greatest obstacle, which had to be overcome before the system, could be established was a certain sluggishness in the flow of the current, which had the effect of making the message almost inaudible. Thomson promptly remedied this defect, and then set himself to the discovery of an instrument for taking down cable messages.
The result was the "siphon recorder", which is still in use throughout the world in all ocean telegraphy. With it as many as 130 words per minute have been sent, where two or three were formerly the rule.
Along the same line Kelvin also invented numerous instruments for measuring both strong and feeble currents. For his work in connection with the cable Thomson was knighted. Twenty-five years later, in 1892, he was elevated to the peerage as Lord Kelvin.
Even before his great success with the cable the young inventor had been recognized as a scientist of exceptional attainments. It is a fact, indeed, that he began doing great things when little more than a boy.
His chair as professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow he won when only 22 years of age. The attention of English scholars had been drawn to him at that time because of his mathematical prowess - he won ten prizes and wrote many important papers while at Cambridge.
For fifty-three years he held his chair at Glasgow, and the passing of the half century was signalized by a celebration in which the scientists of practically the whole world took part. It was a great spontaneous demonstration entirely without precedent or parallel.
The distinctive feature of Lord Kelvin's activities, the keynote to his career, so to speak, is his power of combining the abstract with the practical. Although a profound thinker and scholar, to whom the most advanced lines of human research are as simple as the alphabet to the ordinary layman, he has been the inventor of a legion of the little things that men need in their everyday lives. Not only has he dealt in theory, but he has done things.
His various measuring and testing devices have kept a firm of instrument makers in Glasgow busy for years.
Among these, probably the best known is his magnetic compass for the use of mariners. This was such a radical improvement on any existing instrument that it displaces the others, and stilt remains a factor of incalculable value in securing the safety of ocean travel.
Another important invention much used on ships is a deep-sea sounding apparatus, which permits what previously had never even been dreamed of, the taking of soundings in 100 fathoms from a ship running 16 knots.
Many of Lord Kelvin's researches have dealt with the doctrine of the conservation of energy. He was, indeed, one of the six or eight men, who, living in different countries and working in entire independence of each other, simultaneously established this important theory. Another subject which he has made a specialty, is the age of the earth, and his controversies with the extravagant claims of the geologists are renowned.
The present theory of the ether, the light-bearing, electricity-carrying something which fills alt space, has been in large part his creation, and his famous idea that what we call matter is merely vortices or whirlpools in this ether may be regarded as one of the most far-reaching speculations in modern physics. The mechanical principle by which we obtain liquid air - that a compressed gas expanding freely, without doing work, cools slightly more than the theory demands - is a discovery Kelvin made in conjunction with his friend Joule.
So great an authority has Lord Kelvin become on all matters dealing with either speculative or practical science that in England he is called upon to pass on the practicability of almost every important scientific proposition that comes up for discussion.
His laboratory contains the best equipment in the world for making tests. The first storage batteries imported into England from France were sent to him for a verdict, when American capitalists conceived the plan of utilizing the power of Niagara Falls for commercial purposes and of transmitting it for distances, it was Lord Kelvin whom they placed at the head of the committee of experts which passed on the original plans.
Lord Kelvin's achievements as physicist, electrician and inventor would have made at least three eminent reputations. His marvelous works have not only been recognized by Great Britain, but nearly all the nations of Europe have showered their honors upon him. He is a member of the Prussian Order pour le Merite, grand officer of the Legion of Honor of France, commander of the Order of King Leopold of Belgium, order of the first class of Sacred Treasure of Japan, foreign associate of the Berlin Academy of Science, president of the Royal Society of England and many others. Fifteen universities have conferred on him the honor of their degrees.
Edison, Tesla, Admiral Bradford and Prof. Langley Discuss from Their Points of View His Amazing Prophecy Tesla Thinks Wind Power Should be Used More Now
by Nikola Tesla
The power of the wind has been overlooked. Some day it will be forcibly brought to the position it deserves through the need of a substitute for the present method of generating power. Given a good breeze, I have estimated that there is as much as half a horse-power to every square foot of area exposed. Imagine what energy is left unused with alt this force at hand.
The contrivance that has been at the disposal of mankind from all time, the windmill, is now seen in the rural districts only. The popular mind cannot grasp the power there is in the wind. Many a deluded inventor has spent years of his life in endeavoring to harness the tides, and some have even proposed to compress air by tide or wave power for supplying energy, never understanding the signs of the old windmill on the hill as it sorrowfully waves its arms about and bids them stop.
The fact is that the wave or tide motor would have but small chance of competing commercially with the windmill, which is by far the better machine, allowing a much greater amount of energy to be obtained in a simpler way.
Wind power has been -in all times of inestimable value to man, if for nothing else than for enabling him to cross the seas, and it is even now a very important factor in transportation. But there are limitations in this simple method of utilizing the sun's energy. The machines are large for a given output and the power is intermittent, thus necessitating a storage of energy and increasing the cost of the plant. But there is no question as to its usefulness as a substitute for the energy derived from fuel, and the fact that this power is literally as free as air makes it a wonderful factor in the future of the world of industry.
Apart from the views expressed by Lord Kelvin regarding the future, when the coal supply shall have been exhausted, there is need of more attention being paid to it in the present day.
The man who cannot afford to have a furnace in his house may have a windmill on the roof. In this laborsaving age it is astonishing that farmers are the only citizens who call the wind their friend. Dwellers in cities toil up and down stairs hauling and carrying while above them is a good-natured giant who can do all this work for them if they will but force him into service. Why wait for the coal supply of the earth to be exhausted before enlisting the aid of this vast aerial force?
The power to run elevators, pump water to roof tanks, cool houses in the summer and heat them in the winter is above us, at any one's beck and call.
A little ingenuity will enable any householder to harness the wind and leave it to do the work that he has considered part of the curse of Adam.
Sun's Rays Will be Harnessed, Suggests Prof. Langley
by Professor S. P. Langley, of the Smithsonian Institution.
Lord Kelvin's suggestion of the return to wind as a motive power is pregnant of suggestion.
The problem is one that must engage the scientific mind until pressure of circumstances forces a solution. But, at the same time, while I do not wish to place myself in the position of flatly contradicting so eminent a thinker and student as his Lordship, I feel that his solution of the problem is but partial at the best, and that the true substitute for coal will be found in another direction.
The power that exists in the sun's rays will, in all probability, be the force that will drive the wheels of factories and propel ships and railroads. The tremendous energy that is stored in these rays has long been known to science and several practical attempts have been made to utilize them. As I have already pointed out in my work, "The New Economy," the idea is beginning to pass into the region of the practical utility, and is the form of the latest achievement of Mr. Ericsson's ever young genius is ready for actual work on an economical scale. His new solar engine, which there is every reason to believe is more efficient than Mouchot's would probably be capable of economical use for pumping water in the desert regions of our own country. We must consider the growing demand for power in the world and the fact that its stock of coal, though vast, is strictly limited in the sense that when it is gone we can get absolutely no more. The sun has been making a little every day for millions of years - so little and for so long that it is as though time had daily dripped a single penny into the bank for our credit for untold ages, until an enormous fund had been thus slowly accumulated in our favor. We are now drawing on this fund like a prodigal who thinks his means endless, but the day will come when our check will no longer be honored, and what shall we do then?
The exhaustion of some of the coal beds is an affair of the immediate future, by comparison with the vast period of time we have been speaking of. The English coal beds, it is asserted, will be quite used up in about three hundred years more.
Three hundred years ago the sun, looking down on the England of our forefathers, saw a fair land of green woods and quiet waters, a land unvexed with noisier machinery than the spinning wheel. Because of the coal which has been dug from its soil, he sees it now soot-blackened, furrowed with railway cuttings, covered with noisy manufactories, filled with grimy operatives, while the island shakes with the throb of coal-driven engines, and its once quiet waters are churned by the wheels of steamships. Many generations of men have passed to make the England of Elizabeth into the England of King Edward, but what a brief moment this is compared with the vast lapse of ages during which the coal was being stored! What a moment in the life of the "all-beholding sun", who in a few hundred years may send his beams through rents in the ivy-grown walls of deserted factories, upon silent engines brown with rust, while the mill hand has gone to other lands, the rivers are clean again, the harbors show only white sails and England's "black country" is green once more! To America, too, such a time may come, though at a more distant date.
Future ages may see the seat of empire transferred to regions of the earth now barren and desolated under intense solar heat - countries which, for that very cause, will not improbably become the seat of mechanical and hence of political power.
Whoever finds the way to make industrially useful, the vast sun power now wasted on the deserts of North Africa or the shores of the Red Sea wilt effect a greater change in men's affairs than any conqueror in history has done. He will once more people those waste places with the life that swarmed there in the best days of Carthage and of old Egypt, but under another civilization, where man no longer shall worship the sun as a god, but shall have learned to make it his servant.
Edison Puts off the Evil Day for More Than 50,000 Years
by Thomas A. Edison
I cannot altogether agree with Lord Kelvin as to the nearness of time when the fuel supply of the world will be exhausted.
There is wood enough in the forests of South America to supply the world with fuel for 50,000 years. Wood as fuel takes up more space than coal, but it must be remembered that we are constantly economizing on the amount of fuel necessary to do a given amount of work. The quantity of fuel used to run a locomotive is being reduced as the machine is perfected and the engineers learn to make the coal box smaller without reducing the speed of the engine. By the time the coal supply is exhausted it may be possible to burn wood with equally good results.
A windmill is a big cumbersome thing and I cannot think it possible that progressive men will settle down contented to go back to this primitive method of obtaining power. I have a windmill on my own property, but I never thought it amounted to much, except for pumping water. Wind power, as every schoolboy knows, can be used for generating electricity, but the horsepower thus obtained would not be adequate to the demands of this bustling age.
Additional energy could be obtained by ships at sea from the motion of the vessel being utilized as a generative agent. While the ship moves through the water, propelled by the force of the wind on its sails, the wave power could be caught up and turned into a means of providing electricity. Then, too, seamen will probably explain that the wind that drives a ship is not the only force to be obtained from the air. There are aerial currents that can be made use of by means of appropriate appliances for catching their force.
Man's Wit Will Solve the Problem
by Rear Admiral R. B. Bradford
Rear Admiral R. B. Bradford, chief of the Bureau of Equipment, at Washington, regards the question of the future motive power from an extremely practical standpoint.
"Lord Kelvin," he said, "is a scientist, a great scientist, but I think he is burrowing trouble. The problem that is before us now is not what the motive power will be two hundred or three hundred years from today. It is how best may we conserve the energy we have already stored away in coal. The supply of this article is strictly limited, and its consumption is-increasing in almost arithmetical ratio.
"Unless some force is discovered to replace it, we will soon be at the end of our resources. But it is also true that unless something is discovered to take the place of coal and steam, we shall be compelled to fall back in the end upon the two great forces of nature - the sun's rays and the wind. Both of these can be utilized to generate power, but the trouble with both is that they are variable.
"Power cannot, of course, be generated from the sun's rays at night, nor on a cloudy day, and we have periods of calm, when the wind is scarcely perceptible.
"On the other hand, to say what the power of the future will be is pure speculation and prophecy. I am no seventh son of a seventh son, and do not care to go into the prophesying business. But fifty years before the discovery of the steam engine or the discovery of coal, who would have dared to predict the present mechanical development of civilization?
"Something of the same sort may occur during the next fifty years. Some ingenious man may discover a force of nature that will entirely supersede steam. But this I can say, that unless such a discovery is made, the windmills will in time throw their arms to the breeze, and the solar engines will pump our water and drive our factories."