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Sometimes we get a little carried away with notions about our electric industry infrastructure being out of date.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 Just because a technology is old does not mean it is obsolete.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.


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