In this context, the term "free energy" is not well-defined, and should not be confused with thermodynamic free energy. Generally, it is used to refer to purported transformative technologies which have the potential to dramatically reduce personal energy costs with relatively little capital investment.
Many free energy claims, such as perpetual motion or extracting zero point energy, are impossible according to currently accepted physical laws. Others, such as cold fusion, while not impossible, are not accepted as established by the scientific community. Conspiracy advocates therefore claim that the scientific community has controlled and suppressed research into alternative avenues of energy production via the institutions of peer review.
In addition, some claim that perpetual motion machines or other devices capable of extracting significant and usable power from pre-existing energy reservoirs for little or no cost exist but are being suppressed by governments and special interest groups (such as the fossil fuel and nuclear industry), and that suppression has been going on for some time. According to energy suppression conspiracy advocates, the main motive behind this is the preservation of the economic status quo and sustained increase of fuel prices. Variations on the energy suppression conspiracy state that free energy cannot be allowed in a capitalist system because the system would break down if it were introduced.
Proponents of this conspiracy theory also claim that certain renewable technologies (such as solar cells and biofuels) and other efficient technologies (as electric vehicles) are being suppressed or weakened by governments and special interest groups.
Alternative and free energy research is typically considered to be pseudo-scientific or unrealistic by the scientific community. Conspiracy theorists allege that this is a deliberate attempt by conspirators to suppress this research. There are various other factors which can prevent funding of some alternative energy development, such as "time and information" and capital costs. Groups behind "the conspiracy" have been said to include various national governments, international automakers, and the petroleum industry. An article in Nexus magazine claims
However, governments have not imprisoned individuals for research concerning solar cells, windmills, and geothermal energy production, nor have they closed down research centers investigating such topics. To the contrary National Renewable Energy Laboratory employs many such researchers and is dedicated to alternative energy research with select energy projects being conducted at other national labs such as Los Alamos National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The United States government (DOE, NSF, DOD, and others), the European Union and the Japanese have invested resources in developing alternative sources of energy, typically with the goal of gaining energy independence and a competitive market edge.
The usual claimed justification for alleged suppression is to maintain the current economic system. But from an economics perspective, the existence of free goods contradicts the idea that free or very cheap energy would destroy a market economy. Air and water, necessary raw materials in many processes, are available to anyone at no cost except transport and storage. Furthermore, if energy were in fact free, then there would still be charges for costs of delivering that energy to the end user in conventional transmission lines. In many parts of the world, water is free in the sense that anyone can pull it out of a river; purifying and delivering it, however, has profit potential. Moreover, according to established economic theories, significantly lowered energy costs would result in increased economic growth, since the costs of producing goods and services would drop. "Free energy" would produce a fast growing economy and enable huge economic growth. Increased economic growth from lowered energy costs has occurred before: raw material and resource commodities (notably coal, aluminum, textiles, and labor) dropped in price as a consequence of the industrial revolution. Generally, when a resource becomes cheap, other economic sectors absorb the loss, or new demands will be created.
In the history of free energy, some have attempted to construct means of overunity energy production and suffered specific instances of alleged suppression. Inventors have used other various terms to describe their inventions including free energy devices, mechanisms, or formulas.
The conspiracy theory holds that certain renewable technologies (such as solar cells, which are a type of renewable free energy technology) and other efficient technologies, capable of tapping into reserves of energy, that could provide energy at reduced cost to consumers, reduce pollution levels, or increase energy/fuel efficiency, exists, but is being suppressed by governments and special interest groups (such as the oil/petroleum industry) and that suppression has been going on for some time. There are also individuals that claim that certain extraterrestrial technologies are suppressed by national governments around the globe from researchers. According to the energy suppression conspiracy, the main motive behind this is the preservation of the economic status quo and sustained increase of fuel prices. Peter Lindemann has stated that a "energy revolution" could occur, but “[...] unless something really changes on the social or political or economic level, the technology is irrelevant; it will not be allowed to happen.” Variations on the energy suppression conspiracy state that free energy cannot be allowed in a capitalist system because it would break down if it was introduced. Nikola Tesla stated, when asked if the principle of his worldwide wireless system of "free energy" would upset the dominant economic system, "It is badly upset already".
In June 1902, Tesla moved his laboratory operations from his Houston Street laboratory to Wardenclyffe. However, in 1903, when the tower structure was near completion, it was still not yet functional due to last-minute design changes. Tesla intended for the tower to demonstrate how the ionosphere could be used to provide free electricity to everyone without the need for power lines. Morgan, who could not foresee any financial gain from providing free electricity to everyone, balked. Construction costs eventually exceeded the money provided by J. P. Morgan, and additional financiers were reluctant to come forward. By July 1904, Morgan (and the other investors) finally decided they would not provide any additional financing. Morgan also encouraged other investors to avoid the project. In May 1905, Tesla's patents on alternating current motors and other methods of power transmission expired, halting royalty payments and causing a severe reduction of funding to the Wardenclyffe Tower. In an attempt to find alternative funding, Tesla advertised the services of the Wardenclyffe facility, but he met with little success. By this time, Tesla had also designed the Tesla turbine at Wardenclyffe and produced Tesla coils for sale to various businesses.
Soon after Tesla's death, the FBI instructed the government's Alien Property Custodian office to take possession of his papers and property, despite his US citizenship. His safe was also opened. After the FBI was contacted by the War Department, his papers were declared to be top secret. The personal effects were seized on the advice of presidential advisers; J. Edgar Hoover declared the case most secret, because of the nature of Tesla's inventions and patents.
However, the likely cause for the seizure of Teslas' documents was that he had been working on the teleforce weapon, or death ray, that he had unsuccessfully marketed to the US War Department - not because of his work on free energy devices which had ended eleven years earlier.
In the 1930s, Thomas Henry Moray reported that he and his family had been threatened and shot at on several occasions and his lab ransacked to stop his free energy research and public demonstrations. The 1975 book The Sun Betrayed claimed solar energy production was being suppressed by the US governmental bureau allocated to help its development.
Wilhelm Reich claimed the existence of "Orgone energy" - a bioenergetic extrapolation of the Freudian concept of libido. Reich's ideas were quickly denounced in the American press as a "cult of sex and anarchy". Following widespread outrage, the FDA successfully sought an injunction to prevent Reich from making claims relating to orgone. When he defied the order, Reich was jailed and the FDA destroyed all of his books relating to orgone.
Stanley Meyer produced nine patents relating to his water powered car. Following his sudden death, an autopsy showed that he died of a cerebral aneurysm. Meyer's supporters continue to claim that he was assassinated by 'Big Oil', Arab death squads, Belgian assassins or the US Government. However, Meyer's patents are readily available online, and his many supporters continue to discuss his ideas at great length on the Internet. So any attempt at suppression appears to have been fruitless.
In spite of the difficulties and delays in bringing the MEG to market, Tom Bearden maintains that a number of free energy technologies have been available for well over a century, yet have been actively suppressed by government or private interests.
Bearden and his colleagues have proposed a simple modification to the magnetic Wankel engine (Takahashi Motor) which he claims would deliver "over-unity performance" through asymmetrical regauging. He believes that this technology is known, and suppressed, by the Japanese.
He has repeatedly expressed his belief that the key to over-unity systems was present in the original form of Maxwell's Equations, and this potential was realized by Nikola Tesla; however, he claims that part of the equations were deliberately suppressed in their vectorization by Heaviside and Lorentz in the late 19th century. Bearden claims this was orchestrated by industrialist J.P. Morgan, in order to protect his oil interests
He claims that "nuclear power plant consortium" has worked to "ruthlessly suppress" cold fusion, and further that this consortium "is almost certainly to blame for the murder of Gene Mallove, the main proponent and activist for cold fusion".
He has hypothesized that the death of Arie M. DeGeus in Charlotte, North Carolina was actually a murder carried out to suppress his development of a "self-powering battery" .
Bearden has published no evidence for any of these claims.
Between 2001 and 2002, Gary McKinnon carried out what has been described as being the "biggest ever military computer hack" in history when he gained access to 97 computer systems belonging to the US military and other government bodies, claiming to have seen designs for free energy devices (specifically, zero-point energy devices), and other potentially beneficial technologies that the US government has suppressed. No evidence for his claims has been provided. McKinnon's appeals against extradition to the United States in both the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights have been unsuccessful, and he is due to be extradited in early September 2008.