A team of Russian physicists want to revisit Nikola Tesla’s greatest unrealized plan, update it with modern technology, and try to make his theoretical world-wide wireless power transmission system a reality. And they’re using Indiegogo to make it happen.

Tesla, born 158 years ago today, built Wardenclyffe Tower in 1902 in New York State. He planned for the massive coil at the top of the nearly 200′ tall construction to have a resonant match on the other side of the Atlantic, precisely tuned so to allow for efficient transfer of large amounts of electrical energy over great distances using principles of the ionosphere. Initially backed by J.P. Morgan, the project only lasted a few years before funds evaporated, and while the tower stood for over a decade longer, it eventually fell into disrepair and was demolished during World War I for national safety reasons.

Wardenclyffe Tower at the start of the 20th century.

Wardenclyffe Tower at the start of the 20th century.

The modern day version of Tesla’s system, planned by Leonid Plekhanov and Sergey Plekhanov, hopes to couple an updated transmission tower to a massive bank of solar panels placed in a desert locale somewhere along the Earth’s equator. The duo states that a 100km x 100km collection of panels placed in this region would provide enough energy to power the world’s needs, but is hindered by the inefficiencies and costs of physical power lines. Their tower aims solves that problem.

But before they’re able to satisfy the incredible needs of the energy-hungry global community, the duo first plans to prove that the theory of long-distance wireless power transfer is feasible. Their updated tower, built at half the height and a fraction of the weight of Tesla’s original behemoth, is currently under construction, and they’re seeking additional financing to the tune of $800,000 through the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform. Their demonstrations are proposed to occur in the Fall of 2014, later this year.

If successful, there are still large challenges ahead — starting with producing enough solar panels to blanket an area three times the size of Rhode Island. But it will show that, with time and ongoing effort, those challenges can be overcome too. Tesla would be proud.

Mike Senese

Mike Senese

Mike Senese is the Executive Editor of Make: magazine. He is also a TV host, starring in various engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with remote-control aircraft, doing amateur woodworking, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza.

Follow @msenese

  • http://anglosaxonceltcreates.wordpress.com Sarah

    Reblogged this on Anglo Saxon Celt Creates and commented:
    Probably the best physics project I’ve seen in a long while. Resorting to old British vernacular the best word I can come up with is “stonking”!

  • Phlamingo

    You know, the main reason that wireless transmission of power is the same problem encountered by wireless chargers for hand-held devices: power coupling across an insulating gap is inefficient, and it gets worse as the square of the distance.

    Notice I’m not putting Tesla down. He was brilliant, a tinkerer hero, and a tragic victim of Edison’s business success. But some of his ideas just won’t scale because of basic physics.

    I predict disappointing results from their power transmission experiment.

    I’ve been wrong before, though.

    • 1MM0RTAL_PR1NC3

      yes but did you factor in the exact resonance factor using the atmosphere itself to transfer the energy that factor is not feasible on small scale but to use it on such a large scale has’nt been successfully attempted yet results unknown hopefully it works i want free power

      • WasabiSauce

        Free power? Hard to imagine that whether they made this work or not. Live to dream though. Live to dream.

        • Avatar1337

          In theory it would be free, but people will find a way to get money out of it.

      • Erkko

        Resonance or not, you still have to deal with the dielectric loss of the medium. Like trying to make a tuning fork out of rubber instead of steel.

        The point of resonant transfer of power is simply that one can build up the amplitude of the signal at the recieving end regardless of how weak the actual reception is. It doesn’t mean you get the same power out as you put in at the transmitter.

        In theory, if your medium was lossless, then any energy not captured by the resonant reciever would simply be returned to the transmitter for another go, and that was Tesla’s basic idea because he imagined that the medium was as good as lossless. But it isn’t.

        • Rob Elliott

          As I understand it (in a super basic way) is that Tesla Believed that the Ionosphere could act as a near lossless conduit for power, if the two stations were at the same resonance and set properly that a few of these towers could transmit energy through the Ionosphere to any location on the globe.

          Allowing anyone with a simple receiving device to receive power. Including wireless powered electric aeroplanes.

          There was more to it of course Tesla used a tower that was 200ft high and had a 150ft hole in the ground. It wasn’t like any system used today.

          he had shown some success, though the scaling of that success may not be possible though it’s not been researched in a serious way. Honestly it is more the safety of such a device that concerns me. super charging the ionosphere (or the ground or what ever the actual mechanism is) to power 5 billion homes a billion cars and a million aeroplanes seems like it might lead to health or ecological issues.

          • mhikl

            Rob, re concerns. However, if there is enough energy in an inch cube to power a small city, then it is everywhere around us and we are not hurt by this vast power, right. It may even be what generates consciousness-non-local brain activity. Is it magnetic or electric? Maybe electric because that arc was stolen by some marauders from the Israelites who stole it from the Egyptians and the marauders were fried and the Isees got it back only to chase it for forty years until it landed in desert land near the great Mediterranean Sea. Now that’s a god with a sense of humour.
            But I digress.

            Now a Tesla world transmitter harnesses this energy to make it available to everyone, but there would have to be gizmos/receivers/storage made available to harness the energy from the ‘Tesla’ energy field around us.

            IF the energy acceptors/receivers were like batteries or collectors and safe, then they could be used to power cars, home energy, greenhouses, factories etc. I suspect there would be a mechanism attached to your furnace, hot water heater, stove, automobile, etc., and therefore all would be as safe (possibly safer) than how electricity powers a home today. No moving parts, nothing to wear out-made in America (every country actually) using safe sealed energy. A small gismo on a camping trip could power the lights, heating etc in your Mongolian styled yurt or western tent, cabin etc. Electric toothbrushes I don’t know wether they would have a giz or be plugged in to the wall as today; I suspect the later for small devices, at least by a charger due to their size. But if they could be made small enough there goes the excuse to hangup on a bore because your juice is failing. So it ain’t perfect. :)

            Tesla could make the apartment block rock, where he ran his experiments, enough to bring the cops to ask him to please stop scaring his neighbours. (Those were more civilised times. No head clubbing etc.)
            Interesting times ahead—2020 I predict. And then the people are free at last, as the old song goes.
            Namaste and care,

    • http://www.mysolarpower.info/ Tyler

      It is worth a shot though, right? Just because everyone says that can’t be done, should there be no more experiments?
      I’m happy that you recognize Thomas Edison for what he was. (far from a free thinker)
      Who knows, maybe the world is flat?

  • kev polonski

    I pity the folks that get cancer from the resulting electromagnetic field.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Topperfalkon Topperfalkon

      Like the Earth’s magnetosphere?

      • ka1axy

        Which is pretty much a static, extremely low power, field.

        You’re in more danger from the cellphone you hold up to your ear, in terms of watts per square centimeter.

        • http://twitter.com/#!/Topperfalkon Topperfalkon

          Sure, but I was under the impression there wasn’t much evidence that any of these EM sources were much of a risk.

      • Erkko

        The magnetic component of an EM field interacts very weakly with most stuff.

    • Guest

      please study the information before making such claims. Open your eyes and mind.

  • Paul Jurczak

    “100km x 100km collection of panels” – you surely meant 316km x 316km collection of panels, right? The video states: “100,000 sq. km”

  • KDL

    Free power for everyone eh? It’ll never happen. Not because it’s technically infeasible; I believe it is. But, because the economy is profit driven. No profit, no investment.

    • Brendan Dillon

      Someone could certainly find a way to turn a profit from this. Hell, people buy bottled water at prices that make gasoline look practically free. This will never happen because it simply doesn’t work.

  • ka1axy

    “…demolished during World War I for national safety ignorant paranoia reasons.”

    They feared German spies would use it to communicate. As opposed to throwing a wire up in any old tree

  • Tom C.

    This kind of article really horrifies me. That an idea this irresponsible gets a serious coverage…
    If we really want to save this planet, we better start acting like adults and stop being such spoiled child. Meaning, instead of always looking how to produce and consume more, trying to reason a little about what we really need and how to organize so every people can fill their needs without destroying everything.
    A 100x100km of panels ? Get real people ! Which energy, which resources will you make these with ? Which forest would have to be destroyed to place them (as there’s nothing such as a “desert” along the equator but our already endangered tropical forests) ? There’s nothing such as free energy in this world, everything comes with a price to pay, and don’t you think our earth has been paying enough for our wild dreams of infinite growth ?
    Makes me angry to see it on a site I thought focuses on real solutions, like making thing ourselves, going away from mass consumerism.
    People should give their money to those who really need it instead of this madness.

    • Brendan Dillon

      Even if you could find a ‘desert’ of 100kx100k, a desert is still an ecosystem, 100 square miles of solar panels would rweak havoc on that ecosystem, not to mention I can’t even imagine what such a large array would do to the local climate.

      • Tom C.

        You’re absolutely right ! That’s what I actually had in mind when I put quotes on desert.

      • mhikl

        Brendan, read my post to Tom above. It is a new world coming, possibly by 2020 that will allow us to save our earth without destroying anything. We can do it.

        • Brendan Dillon

          Tesla was wrong (yup, wrong. It happens). Tesla was a brilliant man, but he wasn’t always right and the stories about him have become more than a little bit embellished over the years, especially with the near cultish attitudes some of the new age pseudo-scientists have adopted towards him. And you’re more than a bit delusional. The Ark? Crackpot. Even if something like that could be built (it can’t) and worked (it wouldn’t) the corporation that built it (you’re certainly not going to fund it) would find a way to charge for the power.
          Maybe you should consider investing your time in something more realistic, like hunting for bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster.

          • mhikl

            Brendan, I would rather spend my time questioning conventional thinking that sit in contempt of others who like to probe life’s mysteries.
            You do realise that the vast majority of great discoveries have not come out of mainstream studies, in our period or any other period in history. Even Einstein, whom I do not epitomise in any fashion, was not from mainstream institutions of learning.
            BBTherory seems lost in its rhetoric with little progress in its story. That does not mean I do not continue to follow (try anyway) the news that makes headlines, but there are other approaches that certainly are making some very interesting headway in unravelling some of the questions of our universe and lost history.
            But each to his own. You feel comfortable with common media and science, I like to question everything, a true classical skeptic, and keep abreast of all possibilities.
            It certainly beats the boredom of common media and repetitive thinking.
            Namaste and care,

          • Brendan Dillon

            It’s impressive to find someone who is both completely full of himself, AND completely full of crap. That’s an intriguing duality for you to match your mental powers against.
            You’re not a skeptic, you’re a crackpot. A Believer. Kin to Creationists, Young Earthers, and New Age medicinites who try tonchannel energy intontreating cancer. No matter how wrong Tesla’s theories are proved to be about free energy, you’ll endure and soldier on. People like you call others sheep, and claim you’re free thinkers, while you blindly follow another shepherd, bleating about energy fields and other nonsense. Just a sheep of another color. The funniest part is Tesla would no doubt have thought you were idiots, ignoring every shred of empirical evidence.
            Science has already demonstrated that this doesn’t work. Via mathematical evidence, via observation and testing… It. Doesn’t. Work. And even if you could get it to work, it still wouldn’t be free.
            The worst part is that people like yourself sell the gullible on this foolishness.

          • mhikl

            Full of it? I don’t think so. I study all fields. You have bought into the powers that be and look no further. One doesn’t have to accept all, but an open mind questions everything. Einstein certainly did. And he was willing to admit when he might be wrong, when no others would say it.
            In all history, your type have been the standard bearers. You were the flat earthers, earth as centre of god’s creation. It is a comforting life to live in that which is blessed by the power bearers. The duty of all human thinkers is to challenge and look into possibilities, no matter how strange they are to the entrapped mind.
            Namaste and care, keep safe Brendan. Manners in discussion, no matter how challenging of one’s own is not so hard to try to learn at any stage in life.

          • Steven Irizarry

            you sound like an asshole with no education

          • Brendan Dillon

            You’re right, I’m a poorly educated man who believes science must be proven to work, and that which is not proven to work yet clung to enduringly like reiki, acupuncture and this free energy stuff is crackpottery. If that makes me an uneducated asshole, then I’m the most uneducated asshole around.

    • Tom Magee

      What do you believe the giant life giving thermonuclear furnace in the sky is spewing out if not ‘free energy’?

      • Tom C.

        What I meant is that you can’t use this “free energy” as is. To convert it to something useable by human beings, you need devices. And you need energy to make these devices. And when theses devices are converting the energy, you loose energy again. My point being, you always need a lot of energy to use little energy. I know it’s sad, but that’s how it is. Coal and petrol made people believe that we could take any resource and use it. But these particular resources where processed over millions of years before being in an usable form for us. Meaning the environment used a lot of energy to create them, using mostly solar energy (remember, these are coming from dead plants) but over a very long period.
        If you read carefully my comment, I made it clear that to use a lot of solar energy, you need a lot of resources and energy to build say solar panels, and that’s why this energy isn’t “free”. So instead of finding ways to use a lot of energy, why not finding ways to reduce our needs ?

    • mhikl

      Tom, you obviously have not been following the discussions on Tesla and The Electric Universe (The Thunderbolts Project) among others. This is a different kind of energy that does not destroy the planet, is not dependent upon oil, running water, the sun and taking up land space. It is energy from around us that is permanent and non-destructive.
      We could have had this a hundred years ago but Morgan gave up on Tesla half way through the project when he found out he would not be able to collect money by selling energy. There is no way to collect. It just happens.
      We had such energy stollen from us and so we have gone on to destroy our planet. We need the energy and the Tesla method will save our earth.
      Namaste and care,
      Study the sites I suggested above. They are enlightening.

      • John Carter

        Nice dream that a new technology will save the earth from people. No doubt aliens are involved.

        • mhikl

          John, keep that mind closed. It is your safe cave from challenging ideas.
          Others are energised when a cherished belief is overturned; when was the last time any of your ‘learning’ was overturned? I am not trying to be nasty; seriously, there are those who cannot accept change and others that expect their ideas to be challenged. Both kinds of thinkers are and have been important for the survival to our species.
          There are many over the world working on new energy machines and many are quite successful; from running diode lights (tiny energy) to motors and engines. 2020 is my guess that some models will be available. If you have a twinge of curiosity, do check out You Tube for examples.
          We do indeed live in interesting times. A hundred years of close-minded science is coming to an end.
          Namaste and care,

  • ka9dgx

    Tesla’s vision went way further than you think… the grand plan had nothing to do with transmitting power from his tower to anyplace else… it was to stimulate a resonance in the ionosphere (using high frequency RF to modify the conductivity of the ions) which would convert incoming charged particles from the sun into usable power. The earth would essentially become a giant magnetron. (A device which efficiently converts DC power into RF, much like a whistle converts air pressure into sound).

    Anyone with the appropriate antenna would be able to tap into this power, which would probably be on the order of terawatts, given the surface area of the earth.. or perhaps more?!?

    I can see how this could have been used as a death ray, quite easily.

    • Andrew Caleix

      I don’t know why all these posts are leaving out the point you just made… If they mentioned this there might not be as many absurd comments. Well put.

      • Erkko

        Probably because it’s nonsense without any scientific background to why it would even work.

        • mhikl

          Galileo and Copernicus would have been talking way over your head had you lived in their times. Study, man. That is our purpose in life. Look beyond the now. The possibilities are endless. We need only find and define them.
          Namaste and care,

  • Exxom

    I can’t believe you’re discussing Tesla and electricity. The Indiegogo project is obviously to get two fake guys some ca$h for the retirement. Noone is going to build any antenae, but just laugh in your face.

    • John Carter

      You don’t understand. Physics as you know it just won’t support the life to which we would like to become accustomed. The money is for building a device to communicate with those who can do the job … ie, aliens with an alien physics from another astral plane. Large quantities of Guinness should be harnessed for this effort. You will not be invited because you don’t believe and your downbeat vibe is a bummer, dude.

  • http://www.mysolarpower.info/ Tyler

    Nikola Tesla was a hauss! Anything to replicate or figure his ideas, kudos!!

  • Daylen Von Westerfield

    I’ve thought about this for sometime, I’m an electrician my thoughts are it will work. Tesla knew it would, he was using the positive ions in the air. It would piss a lot of people off. Free power plus positive ions are bad for you. There are more positive ions in the air when a storm is coming in. There for your joints hurt, you’re not in a good mood. It some day will change the world. I’m planning on starting my own mini tower.