Thomas Edison – A Founder of the Electric Utility Industry

Thomas Edison in 1882 in New York City operated the world’s first modern electric utility system. Known as the Pearl Street Station, it serves to this day as the model for generating and distributing electric power.

Modern power station

Modern power station

As we watch more renewable energy technologies like solar and wind come on line, many experts wonder about the fate of today’s electric utilities. The sun does not always shine and the wind is subject to long lulls. How will this impact the reliability of electricity we have come to expect; and to the digital economy so important to our economic growth? Does this mean we need to co-install massive energy storage facilities either in a centralized or distributed fashion as more and more solar and wind systems are put into service?

Wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels

Wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels

Renewable advocates are loudly proclaiming a total solar/wind energy grid by mid-century. While it is technically feasible, is it a wise path? Wouldn’t a diverse energy mix be more logical and desirable? Back in the 1970s, the world learned a harsh lesson when too much of its energy economy was invested in oil. Is it wise to swing back to the other end of the energy spectrum for philosophical and political reasons?

While Edison did originate our modern electric utility system, he did have a great sense of what the future might hold. Consider his quote, circa 1910……

“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. I wish I had more years left.”

Stay tuned for the many discussions you will likely hear about our nation’s energy future; and remember…..Thomas Edison is still relevant in the discussion!

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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