By all accounts, Nikolai Tesla was a remarkable man. Whether you believe in full the hilarious rant by The Oatmeal with his Eddison v Tesla comic strip, or simply dig deep into his history yourself, it's clear that he was a genius.
He had a vision that electricity should be free to all and he spent a significant part of his life trying to realise his dream. He wanted wireless power to all homes and even had a plan for it. However when his financial backers pulled out, he was left with nothing. Even though he had patents for all kinds of technology and much of what we take for granted today owes its existence to his ideas, he died penniless in a New York Hotel in 1943.
However, his name is back in the form of the company founded by Elon Musk and it's about to upset the energy markets. It seems, at last, the name Tesla could eventually be synonymous with limitless electricity for everyone.
Tesla the company
You may have heard of Tesla motors. It's the company that has built a car that runs entirely on electricity, without the need for hybrid engines. Most electric-only cars take hours to charge, have a top speed of 20 miles per hour and run for about an hour before grinding to a halt.
The Tesla is different. It has a top speed of 130 mph, a range of over 250 miles and the new one with its 'insane' button can do 0-60 in 3.17 seconds, faster than most Ferraris. And all of this is in complete silence. It's revolutionary, and many reviewers agree that it’s the only electric vehicle they could imagine owning and using day-to-day. It just works.
Engineer Elon Musk is the man behind the company and the car and he’s grown the company to the point where it's now worth billions. He's also the same man behind the SpaceX company that is aiming to take people to other planets. By all accounts, he is a man with a dream and the money to make that dream a reality.
Of course, going into space is cool if you have the money and Tesla cars aren't for everyone, they're not mass market (yet), so you could argue his inventions are too niche and not mass market enough. But things are about to change because recently he announced a new battery for the home.
It's difficult to imagine why this is a big issue, so let's wind back and discuss how we get energy and, importantly, why solar power is so expensive.
Power stations generate electricity according to demand. Nuclear and coal-fired plants are ready to add more power to the grid when Eastenders ends so everyone can make a cup of tea. They're always generating power; they're not storing it. Energy is created, it is then used.
But this is using either fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, which are finite and have a detrimental effect on the environment or nuclear power that comes with its own challenges. As you'll no doubt be aware, the push to use solar and wind energy has been massive over the past few decades, but there's an enormous problem with it.
You see, we don't have solar and wind on demand. If we need electricity and it's not sunny or windy, then we don't get it. To make renewable energy worthwhile and, importantly, inexpensive, it needs to be able to be stored.
The answer is, of course, batteries. But battery technology is not at the place it should be. In fact, current technology just doesn’t give us batteries that are cheap enough or have the capacity to run our homes and businesses long term.
But that just changed.
Tesla has recently announced a new battery that you can attach to the wall of your garage. It will store all the energy generated by solar panels until you need it. Such as at night when usage is higher, but there's no sun in the sky.
Now obviously there are naysayers who are quick to argue that this is not going to revolutionise anything, and it's just another toy for rich people, but let's think about this.
The constant drive for new gadgets that will have to be powered by electricity means we're going to need more energy in the future. Fossil fuels are causing damage and contributing to global warming; something needs to be done to fix the problem.
These batteries are not expensive. At the moment, yes, they will not make a huge dent in the cost of electricity, but these are only the first to hit the market, and it's a new technology. As we know, when the first versions of anything come out, the competitors are quick to catch up.
A few years ago the iPhone appeared yet people said they were too expensive at over £600. You can now get smartphones for £80 from Tesco.
What Tesla has brought to market is "disruptive technology". It drives change, and it upsets the status quo. Their website discusses the possibility of being "completely off the grid". Can you imagine that? Can you consider what it would be like to disconnect your power lines and get your power entirely independent of the energy companies?
Instead of having to build new nuclear power stations, we would be shutting them down!
And, of course, we would then be getting our energy from one of the most efficient sources available - the sun.