Leadership Lyceum

Leadership Lyceum: A CEO’s Virtual Mentor

This podcast series focuses on corporate and industry strategy and trends from the direct vantage point of key industry leaders. Subscribe to the podcast at Apple iTunes. Interviews with Tom Fanning and Bob Flexon are available, as well as one with Joe Rigby, Bob Skaggs and Les Silverman.

See Podcasts

Public Utilities Reports

PUR Guide Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!
PUR Guide

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

What Edison Would and Wouldn't Recognize

Guest column

Today in Fortnightly

Sometimes we get a little carried away with notions about our electric industry infrastructure being out of date. Some commentators have used the statement: 

"Thomas Edison would likely recognize much of today's infrastructure"

as some sort of proof of technological deficiency. Well, I do not believe it is correct, much less proof of obsolescence. 

There is much electric infrastructure Edison would not recognize. That list would include a majority of the electric power generation in this country, provided by nuclear power and natural gas turbines.

Indeed, he would not recognize the use of gas for power plants. Nor would he recognize cooling towers, pollution control equipment, or power controls, or utility call centers filled with computers and other digital technologies. 

While Edison would certainly recognize the transmission and distribution lines in use today, he would not be familiar with the fiberglass or composite materials of the new poles, nor the advanced materials of the power lines themselves. This is not to take anything away from Edison's legacy as our most prolific and, in some regards, our greatest inventor. 

My point is that technological progress in the electric power industry has occurred. New technology has been introduced where it has been approved as cost-beneficial by state public service commissioners, or where it has emerged superior in competitive markets. 

This will continue for as long as regulators and utilities are willing to recognize technological obsolescence - through increased depreciation rates - in a timely manner.

Another thought. Just because a technology is old does not mean it is obsolete. 

The wheel is among mankind's oldest technologies. It still works just fine. I'll bike on over and explain it to you, if need be.


Since 1928, contributors to Public Utilities Fortnightly have impacted the myriad debates on utility regulation and policy. Are you a part of the PUF community? Have you expressed your point of view in our pages?