Nikola Tesla - "Rain Can Be Controlled and Hydraulic Force Provided, Says Nikola Tesla, if We Turn to Sun for Our Power"

This is a terrific article from The Syracuse Herald in 1920 where Nikola Tesla is directly quoted throughout most of the text. Unfortunately, at the end of the first column, there are some unreadable passages. I did my best with the transcription in those parts.

The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, New York. Sunday Morning, February 29, 1920.
Rain Can Be Controlled and Hydraulic Force Provided, Says Nikola Tesla, if We Turn to Sun for Our Power"
Decries Project of Harnessing Atomic Energy,
Saying It Would Require More Power to
Do This Than Could Be Obtained Through
Plan Likened to Dream of Communicating
With Dead.

New York, Feb. 28.--Can the world get from its rainfall all the power it needs or ever will need, though the demand for power be multiplied a hundredfold?

Nikola Tesla tells me that this can be done.

No living human being is better qualified to speak.

He has been studying all our various sources of energy and rejects them all save this.

He sees no hope in the suggested possibility of harnessing atomic energy; he sees none in the suggested utilization of the vast force of the ocean's tides; the power of ocean waves cannot be harnessed; heat from the earth's interior for the creation of steam is not genrally (sic) available or to be made available; sun-engines are not practical; windpower is not dependable; coal and oil are decreasing in availability and therefore increasing in cost.

So Tesla, realizing that the sun is the source of all the energy we know or ever can know, plans to harness it through the medium of water power.

And he makes the amazing statement that water-power can be controlled almost at will through the control of rainfall, which he regards now as a fully feasible thing.


Perhaps of all the fascinating things he says in the interview which follows, this statement that rainfall can be controlled is the most engaging. But he leaves his plan for it a mystery.

Our talk resulted from a casual statement made recently while we were discussing for publication in the Syracuse Herald the announcement from London that Marconi had heard upon his wireless instruments sounds which might have been, he thought, signals from inter-stellar space and possibly from Mars.

That afternoon Tesla had spoken of our need for new power sources and, when I asked him if they were available, had answered:


So yesterday I asked him to explain.

One must listen to him with profound respect as one of the world's greatest scientists. To catalogue his discoveries and inventions would be an extraordinary task, which I shall not attempt.

His name is known throughout the progressive world.

"Are our present sources of power sufficient for our future needs?" I asked.

"No." said Mr. Tesla.

"Have we other sources to be utilized?"

"One, only, I believe," he answered, "the fundamental source, the sun, manifested through water."

"But water power, even though it be developed, is not generally enough distributed to fill all our needs."

"That can be arranged," said this extraordinary man, and then began a smooth, unhesitant statement of the whole vast problem which in the last analysis is the problem of human comfort and well being. Indeed, of human life itself.

And this rapid fire of scientific fact gathered force and speed as it progressed, carrying me over technicalities and through scientific terms without a stop until its final vital statement about control of rainfall at man's will left me gasping.

Power of Future.

"Technical improvements, more or less essential," said Mr. Tesla, "have made it possible for mankind to aggregate in civilized communities, thus economizing effort, insuring the comfort and safety of existence, and raising life in general to a higher plane of culture and refinement.

"Among these [unreadable] the development of power [unreadable] the most urgent and vital [unreadable] not have [unreadable] the telegraph and [unreadable] are the [unreadable] with [unreadable] the development of power we would [unreadable] But without power [unreadable].

"The [unreadable] we would be [unreadable] mechanically [unreadable] power [unreadable] what a [unreadable] might be [unreadable] interruption [unreadable]. If this knowledge were more [unreadable] if everybody were clearly [unreadable] of the terrible consequences that were liable to result from the [unreadable] of such an interruption [unreadable] railroad workers would be impossible.

[unreadable] from [unreadable] and light [unreadable] the [unreadable] peasant [unreadable] mean; [unreadable] even death [unreadable] the fear of [unreadable] source and gratitude for their life giving qualities gave birth to religious beliefs which transmitted and transformed through countless generations, have shaped our destinies.

"In the beginnings, therefore, we were wholly subject to the forces of nature. Our ultimate goal seems to be their complete mastery. That will have been accomplished when [unreadable] power [unreadable] we will [unreadable]
been so successful in putting it to service that our life has become artificial to a degree hard to realize. Millions of human beings, almost never or even never see the sun, and yet our dependence on it is absolute.

"Those few who are mindful of the future long ago ceased to look upon power as a mere means of securing individual safety and comfort, learning to attach to it a significance national, international and humanitarian.

"Not only this, but the idea is slowly gaining ground that the resources we command belong as much to coming generations as to our own and the thoughts of engineers and inventors are turning to the discovery of such an improvement in methods as will do away with the barbarous waste now going on, which, in the end, must exhaust our stores.

"This is the reason why all sorts of sensational announcements relative to new sources of power create such a hysterical interest and find such ready if sometimes unintelligent acceptance. Not more than one out of a thousand, even among professional men, is able to sift the wheat from the chaff.

Dream of Atomic Energy.

"As an instance I may refer to the harnessing of atomic energy which now seems to be the plan uppermost in the speculative public mind. Much of the discussion on this subject is of the same order of merit as talk about communion with the spirtis (sic) of the dead, or similar nonsense springing from a morbid craving for the perpetuation of self. It is contradictory to all natural laws, reason and experience.

"The simple truth is this: During ages philosophers have endeavored to ascertain the constitution of matter, and have been led to the conclusion that the micro- and macro-cosmos are very much alike in some respects. In other words, there are similarities of structure, arrangement and operation between the micro-organism and the universe.

"The suns, stars and moons of the heavens have their counterpart in the molecules, atoms and electrons which form those divisions of matter too small for the unaided human eye to see.

"Accordingly, all bodies are composed of independent particles of different sizes, spinning around each other with prodigious velocities and containing an amount of kinetic energy which recent physical research has shown to be immense.

"If we could capture and transform it we would obtain unlimited power anywhere on this globe. This possibility presented itself to the minds of advanced investigators long ago. It is not a new idea, but science in recent years has rendered it definite and precise.

"Since the discovery of the Roentgen rays 24 years ago, I myself have devoted much thought and experiment to the realization of this dream. The first promising result was reached in 1897, when I succeeded in projecting to a distance primary matter, apparently not further decomposable, and collected some of its energy.

"This formed one of the subjects of my address before the New York Academy of Sciences in the same year of which, however, only meager reports appeared in some technical papers, due to the fact that time did not permit me to prepare it for publication.

The Practical Obstacle.

"Subsequently I perfected apparatus which, perhaps, even at this time would be considered unique and seemed well adapted for the accomplishment of the first step, namely, the liberation of atomic energy. But although my method was promising and one of the ablest physicists, Professor Bucherer, shared my opinion, these investigations have only tended to prove that an amount of power greater than that obtainable must be expended in the process.

"In fact, I am satisfied that the problem is very much of the same nature as that involved in the separation of heavenly bodies.

"To get a concrete idea we may consider, as analogous to atoms, the earth and the moon, whirling about it with a speed of 0.291 miles per second. The kinetic energy of the orbital movement of this planet is equal to half the product of its mass and the square of its velocity. Let us now ask what energy would be required to separate the moon from the earth.

"This readily can be ascertained by the use of the calculus. We only need assume that the satellite has fallen from the depths of space to its present distance of 238,800 miles, acquiring a certain velocity, and
then the energy necessary to separate it from the earth would be equal to half the product of its mass and the square of this velocity.

"I find the latter to be about 0.9 miles per second, from which it follows that the energy of the moon's motion which might be liberated would be only a little over 10 per cent of that which would have to be expended in order to bring about the result.

"It is obvious, however, that only a part of the liberated energy would be recoverable. If the vis viva of the atoms is first transformed into heat, which seems unavoidable, hardly more than one-third of the whole will be actually abstracted and the external energy required should not be more than, say, one-sixth.

"Thus if atomic energy were released at the rate of 6,000 horsepower, 2,000 would be converted, 1,000 for working the process and an equal amount for useful purposes.

"This condition would obtain in the case of the moon if it were gyrating around the earth with its present orbital velocity but at a distance of 13,755,000 miles which is, in proportion, much greater than any separation of the constituents of the atomic structure.

Would Not Pay.

"The logical inference is that while it is possible to liberate the atomic energy it will not pay to do so.

"I am afraid that we are confronted with some such insuperable difficulty in the undertaking in question and if so, the prospect of its practical realization is poor. La Place has concluded the planetary system to be unchangeable--eternal, and his reasoning would seem to apply to the molecular world as well, for its motions obey the same laws.

"But the question naturally will be asked, how about the radium phenomena? Here we have an example of actual disintegration. I expressed myself in this regard in 1896, long before these effects had been thoroughly observed and studied.

"In my view the energy instrumental in the process of disintegration resides in the ether of space, and in this light the problem before us appears to be more rational, inasmuch as it resolves itself into that of harnessing the energy of the medium. This has presented itself to my mind as a more promising line of research along which practical success may be achieved.

"Discounting for the present this possibility, and examining the sources of energy at our disposal, other than fuel, we have to consider the light and heat rays of the sun, the wind, the tides and ocean waves, atmospheric electricity, terrestrial heat and waterfalls.

"A few statements will suffice to show that the energy of falling water is our most precious asset, all the more so as its value may be increased an hundredfold.

"The heat of the sun's rays falling upon the earth represent an enormous amount of energy. Careful measurements show it to be about 83 foot-pounds per square foot, which would mean that approximately 6 1/2 square feet exposed perpendicularly to these rays would collect energy at the rate of one horsepower.

Other Sources of Power

"As the earth is spherical and the angle of incidence varies from place to place, the average amount is 20 3/4 foot-pounds for every square foot of the exposed surface or over 1,000,000 horsepower per square mile, and if a considerable amount could be usefully transformed we would not need coal and oil.

"This plan of obtaining motive power is old and was always particularly attractive to the ill-informed.

"The hard facts are these: When we take into account the daily variations, the diurnal, casual and seasonal changes in the intensity of the rays, the power is reduced, fairly estimated, to about 100,000 horsepower per square mile of which 10,000 horsepower might be recovered in turbines.

"That in itself would not be bad, were it not for the necessity of the installment of huge storage plants and apparatus so large and expensive that a project of this kind is beyond the pale of the commercial. It is true that the evolution of modern life entails a continuous rise in the price of commodities and for this reason the value of meager and less profitable resources is steadily increasing. As time goes on we may find the harnessing of the sun's rays less objectionable, especially as great improvements are possible in the methods and devices which have been so far employed. But now, no.

"The wind furnished power in amounts not to be disdained and has been put to use by man since time immemorial. In many countries the employment of windmills for lighting and storage purposes is quite practicable, but the erratic character of the power supply makes it unsuitable for enterprises of any magnitude.

"As to the tides, barring exceptional cases, they can not be even seriously considered. Ordinarily their power does not amount to more than about one horsepower per acre and its intermittances necessitate storage. This and the difficulty of collecting energy over wide areas preclude the possibility of developing power in this manner in competition with engines, however dear the fuel.

"The energy of ocean waves is great, often amounting to several hundred horsepower per foot of width. Thousands of inventors have grappled with the problem of harnessing them and have failed. There are four distinct ways of operating with wave motors, but, whichever method is adopted, it leads to discouraging results. Only an insignificant amount of energy can be salvaged and with forms of apparatus not adapted for most practical uses. Worst of all, the power is whimsical and uncertain.

"Nature's display of electrical forces often involves vast amounts of energy. During my investigations of terrestrial electric phenomena in Colorado I discovered 12,600 lightning discharges in two hours and some of them I estimated as sufficient to furnish 5,000 horsepower for one year.

"Taking the theoretical energy of each discharge as equivalent to 2,000 horsepower years and one hundred strokes per minute, the mean power rate, while the display lasted, was nearly 263 billion horsepower, a staggering figure but nevertheless of small practical significance. With my osciliatory (sic) transformers it is possible to derive energy from lightning, but its economic storage is
next to impossible on account of the extreme suddenness and violence of manifestation.

"The utilization of terrestrial heat on an immense scale appears quite feasible and there is a strong probability that at a time not distant projects of this kind will be seriously undertaken. I dealt with this subject at length in an article published in the Century magazine of June, 1900.

"The interior portions of the globe are known to be very hot, the temperature rising about one degree centigrade for every hundred feet of descent.

"If the engineering difficulties of sinking shafts to great depths could be successfully overcome, steam power in any desired quantity for industrial uses might be made available in any country irrespective of location.

"Although the materials composing the earth's crust have only one-sixteenth of conductivity of steel used in boilers, this impediment could be largely done away with and an influx of heat to the boiler obtained sufficient for effective evaporation of water into steam under a pressure which would be merely dependent on the depth of the shaft.

"The energy could be converted in turbines with fair economy and, according to a rough estimate, it would be possible to develop one brake horsepower for every ten square feet of shaft surface. If a shaft's diameter were fifty feet, up to 100,000 horsepower might be developed per mile.

"This plan has been advocated recently in England by Sir Charles Parsons, who has contributed so much to the perfection of the turbine engine.

"The necessity of carrying it out on a stupendous scale, the technical difficulties involved, and incertitude in the estimate of cost will be deterrents to investment of capital which however, may be eliminated by carefully working out all the details of such an undertaking.

"But no matter what may be accomplished in the future along any of these lines, the power derived from waterfalls is destined to be our mainstay.

Water Power Ideal.

"In most of the processes of transformation we are confronted with appalling waste and definite limits exist to improvements aiming at economy. No amount of ingenuity can ever circumvent the natural laws imposing these restrictions.

"Water power is a remarkable exception in this respect. In hydraulic development the wheel can have an efficiency of 85, and the dynamo can have an efficiency of 98 per cent, so that the combined efficiency is over 83 per cent, that is to say, we are enabled in this way usefully to apply
almost the entire energy furnished by the sun.

"Not only this but the apparatus is simple, well-nigh indestructible, and requires virtually no attention.

"Unfortunately this source of power supply is not adequate to meet all our needs, although the theoretical energy of falling water is, so to speak, unlimited. Assuming for the rain-clouds an average height of 15,000 feet and an annual precipitation of 33 inches, the power over the whole area of the United States amounts to more than twelve billion horsepower but a large portion of the potential energy is transformed into heat by friction of the rain drops against the air so that the actual mechanical energy is much smaller.

"Most of the water comes from a height of something like 2,000 feet, and in all represents over one-half a billion horsepower, but in the form of available waterpower we cannot obtain more than a fall of 100 feet so that by harnessing all the falls in the United States not more than eighty million horsepower can be developed.

"So far we have harnessed approximately 8,000,000 horsepower in this country, thus effecting a saving equivalent to nearly one-third of the entire coal mined. By extensive damming the power derived can be greatly increased, possibly to several hundred million horsepower, giving us more power by far than we have now with all our coal. But this will not be the limit.

On Eve of Great Feats.

"We are on the eve of accomplishments which will be of tremendous consequence to the future advancement of the human race. One of these is the control of the precipitation of moisture.

"The water is evaporated and thus
raised against the force of gravity. It is then held in suspension in the vapor which we call clouds. Air currents carry this vapor, hither and yon, often to distant regions, where it may remain for long periods at a height, in a state of delicate suspension.

"When the equilibrium is disturbed the water falls to earth form of rain and through rills and rivers flows back to the ocean.

"Thus the sun, whose heat causes the evaporation, even maintains this life-sustaining stream. The energy necessary to cause the precipitation of the rain, compared with that rain's potential energy when released, is like that of the spark setting off a charge of dynamite compared to the dynamite.

"If this part of the natural process were under the wilful (sic) control of man he could transform the entire globe.

"Many schemes have been proposed to this end, none of which have knowledge offering the remotest chances of success.

"But I have ascertained that with proper apparatus this wonder can be performed.

"Any amount of power will then be at our disposal; we can make out of deserts fertile land and create lakes and rivers almost without effort on our part.

"However, our triumph would not be complete if the power could not be conveyed to distances without limit. This achievement, too, is now within our reach. With my wireless system it is practicable to transmit electrical energy over a distance of 12,000 miles with a loss not exceeding 5 per cent. I can conceive of no advances which would be more desirable at this time and more beneficial to the further progress of mankind."

--(Copyright by Edward Marshall Syndicate, Inc.)


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