You Won’t Believe Who Predicted the Electric Grid

The electric grid we use today is a technological marvel, but how would you describe it in 16th century terms?

It might sound a bit like a description given by the famed seer Nostradamus.  Some people hear the name Nostradamus and immediately roll their eyes.  Others have mixed opinions on his prophecies.  But there are also plenty of true believers out there.  Did Nostradamus write about our modern electric grid?  After reading the following prediction myself, I have to admit it might be the real deal.

Image Courtesy renneslechateauteam.org

Image Courtesy renneslechateauteam.org

The prophecy in question is Quatrain 3-44, which varies slightly between translations from French to English, but essentially says,

When the animal domesticated by man
After great pains and leaps will come to speak:
The lightning to the virgin will be very harmful,
Taken from earth and suspended in the air.

No one can deny that a reference to lightning is a strong indicator that Nostradamus is talking electricity here.  After all, in most places of the world, electricity is transmitted via a network of wires suspended in the air by poles.  We place power lines in the air to prevent contact with people and things that will cause electrocutions.  Even if you don’t believe in prophecy, you have to admit that this is an interesting interpretation of a centuries-old writing.

Perhaps most importantly, the first portion of this prediction tells us domesticated animals will be able to talk!  (I’ll be thrilled when this part of the quatrain comes true, because I am very interested to learn what my dog is really thinking when he chases his tail for five minutes straight.)

Nostradamus’ prognostication about the modern electric grid is surprising, but there are some modern predictions materializing in the energy and technology sectors as well.  The two most famous men in the history of energy were correct in their forecasts of our energy and technology future.  But, we can safely assume that Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were making very educated guesses, instead of supernatural prophecies, when they predicted the future.

The “Internet of Things”

Nikola Tesla sitting beside one of his famous Tesla Coils. Image courtesy Teslasociety.com

Nikola Tesla sitting beside one of his famous Tesla Coils.
Image courtesy Teslasociety.com

Who else but Nikola Tesla could predict WiFi and our miraculous handheld computing gadgets, internet connection, and network connectivity?  In 1909 Tesla remarked to The New York Times, “It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages all over the world so simply that any individual can own and operate his own apparatus.”
Yes, it is possible, and we use this technology every day, and not just for entertaining ourselves on our smartphones.

Tesla’s prediction goes far beyond our phones where we share pictures of amusing cats and upload our breakfast pictures to Instagram.   It includes the technology that now lets different machines “talk” to each other via internet connections.  Building management systems and smart meters are great examples of this.  Through these devices, it is possible to control an entire building’s operation from one central location, and it doesn’t even necessarily have to be on site!

It is also worth noting that Tesla also predicted that electricity itself can, and will, be transmitted wirelessly at a low cost.  He dedicated much of his life to achieving this goal, although there is no concrete evidence that he was able to accomplish this on a large scale.  Many anecdotes of his wireless power success exist however, and we’d like to think they’re true.  Perhaps we should revisit the technology behind the Tesla Coil and improve on it?  Who knows what is achievable after more than a hundred years of engineering advancement.

Solar Power

Everyone knows Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla weren’t best friends, but neither of them were fond of the dirty coal-fired power plants that sprung up around the country.  Both men were in favor of renewable generation like hydropower and solar as long term energy sources, and Edison was ahead of his time in his attitude toward sustainable energy sources.

Left to right: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone Image courtesy corporate.ford.com

Left to right: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone
Image courtesy corporate.ford.com

In 1931 he clearly stated his passion for clean energy.  In a conversation with fellow inventors Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone he said, “we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

We’re still waiting to fully transition away from coal and oil, but let’s hope Edison is right on the mark!  We haven’t left coal behind, but we’re not shying away from solar power either.  Maybe the world is finally ready to make the switch to the clean power future Edison wished for the world almost a century ago.

Whether it is a psychic prophecy such as from Nostradamus, or the educated guesses of Edison and Tesla, it’s plausible that the state of our electric grid was foreseen well in advance.  These guys have every right to come back and tell us “told you so.”

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