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Can you create energy out of nowhere ?

I recall reading that Nikola Tesla suggested that electricity could be created from the air. This claim is stated in the following quote from a humourous comic on the Oatmeal:

You know when you need electricity for your home it simply rains down from the earth's ionosphere and charges everything wirelessly? ... Oh right, that was something Tesla invented but didn't share with the world ...

and also, similarly:

One of Tesla's final gifts to the world was a tower near New York City that would have provided free wireless energy to the entire planet. The man who financed the construction of the tower shut it down when he learned that there would be no way to regulate the energy and therefore it wouldn't make money.

Have these inventions since been proven as a viable and useful technology? Do we now understand how these inventions worked, and could either of them have provided energy enough for millions of people around the world to power heat, A/C, lights, computers, stoves, refrigerators, and other appliances?

EDIT I have edited this question so it is narrower than creating energy out of nowhere, specifically limited to those claims about inventions made by Tesla that I found referenced in the Oatmeal comic. (I leave it to a moderator to remove the Possible Duplicate note above and re-open, at their discretion)

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    What do you mean "create"? I thought he wanted to transmit electric power through the air, more or less like radio waves. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 1:48
  • @Mike Dunlavey: You might be right, but I had understood that he had meant "create" to be "extract", as if the energy was already present in the air and he was postulating an efficient way to harness that energy for electrical current. I gather that Tesla's theory was buried because it threatened the electrical generation industry at the time. Perhaps that's an important point to add to the question. :o) Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 2:41
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    @Brian M. Hunt: Perhaps the theory was ignored because it defied the first two laws of thermodynamics, and there was no solid evidence for it. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 3:23
  • Does this question refer to a specific theory? If so, could you link it? Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 3:34
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    This isn't a duplicate, as can be seen by searching for Tesla's ideas. Not all of them were in accord with the laws of physics, but the idea to get energy from the electrostatic difference of the atmosphere at various altitudes could work in theory. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


I found a web site that claimed he had a plan to extract energy from the heat in the air. This is a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that you can only derive heat energy from a difference in temperature.

This site mentions cosmic rays, and then suggests that a sufficiently high wire could bridge a potential difference between the ground and the air, thereby charging a capacitor that could be tapped for power. This could actually work, as there are often potential differences (when they get large enough, we get lightning). Whether there would be enough usable energy to make it worthwhile is another question (and a large enough potential difference would zap right through the capacitor anyway).

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    The thing about Tesla is that, like Gauss, some of the things he made or said aren't really easy to understand by anyone. Miss-quotes abound around him.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 15:28

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