Tesla Wins! Tesla Wins!
Infrastructurum Longa, Vita Brevis.
Forgive the piggish Latin. The geekier among you know that although Thomas Edison gets all the credit for the light bulb and municipal power and all that -- Consolidated Edison, anyone? -- he actually came out the loser on a big standards war: AC vs DC. Edison was a big proponent of direct current. It was Nicola Tesla (and his backer George Westinghouse) who invented alternating current, which allowed electricity to be delivered over distances unimaginable by DC fans.
But by the time AC's superiority was demonstrated -- in spite of some nasty competitive shenanigans by Edison -- there was a fair amount of DC infrastructure in place. For about 100 years in New York. a small but stubborn set of clients demanded and got DC from Con Ed. (It was true in Boston, too; less than 15 years ago, I worked in a large-ish downtown building whose elevators ran on DC.)
Finally, ConEd pulled the plug on DC, closing the last direct current generator in the city. If a building wants DC, they'll have to put a rectifier on site. From the NYTimes:
The direct current conversion in Lower Manhattan started in 1928, and an engineer then predicted that it would take 45 years, according to Mr. Cunningham. “An optimistic prediction since we still have it now,” he said.
The man who is cutting the link today at 10 East 40th Street is Fred Simms, a 52-year veteran of the company. Why him?
“He’s our closest link to Thomas Edison,” joked Bob McGee, a Con Ed spokesman.
The moral: make your technology infrastructure choices carefully. It may take a while to undo them.