Opinion

Honoring Our Industry’s Past, Creating Our Energy Future

In September, America’s greatest inventor was honored at the U.S. Capitol, as a statue of Thomas Alva Edison was unveiled. Edison set out to change the world and always reached for the stars. With more than 2,300 patents worldwide — 1,093 in the U.S. alone — Edison was more than just a dreamer. He saw his ideas and inventions through to implementation.

Today, the electric power industry is rapidly transforming far beyond what Edison could have imagined when the Pearl Street Station first produced electricity. I believe Edison would be excited to see the innovations that our nation’s electric companies are deploying to build a smarter energy infrastructure for the benefit of all electricity customers.

Edison’s grand vision, the energy grid, powers our everyday lives — and America’s economy. I cannot help but wonder what Edison would think of the more than 65 million smart meters that have been installed throughout the country, enabling two-way power and information flows to improve visibility into the operation of the energy grid.

Today, the electric power industry is our nation’s most capital-intensive industry, with electric companies investing more than $100 billion each year to make the energy grid more dynamic and more secure, and to transition to cleaner energy sources.

As a result, carbon emissions are currently nearly 21 percent below 2005 levels, and about one-third of all electricity nationwide now comes from zero-emissions sources like nuclear, hydropower, wind, and solar. Looking forward, the use of renewable energy sources to generate electricity is projected to almost quadruple between 2010 and 2040.

Electric companies continue to follow in Edison’s footsteps by leading the way in innovation. Today, the Edison Electric Institute’s member companies are working with hundreds of leading technology companies and startups to unlock the full potential of the future and empower customers. These technology companies are partnering with our industry to deliver tomorrow’s technologies to customers today.

To help accelerate the pace of energy innovation, EEI and the Institute for Electric Innovation have partnered with startup incubator 1776. This partnership brings together leading electric companies, established technology companies, and promising startups to help solve the world’s most challenging energy issues.

America’s electric companies are also leading investment and innovation in electrification, specifically in the transportation sector, to fundamentally improve the way Americans live their lives and to help reduce carbon emissions. For example, EEI launched a nationwide initiative to expand the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) used in electric company transportation fleets. This initiative has resulted in a 37 percent increase in investment in PEV technologies — from $90 million in 2015 to $124 million in 2016.

Like any great inventor’s career, Edison’s was one of trial and error. There was no “eureka” inspiration — rather, he worked tirelessly to realize his ideas, making incremental progress.

I cannot think of a better place for his statue than our nation’s Capitol. Here it will serve as a source of inspiration for our leaders, as they work to implement policies that foster the innovation and invention that has always set America apart.

Today, we are also proud to be inventors and to play a leading role in delivering our clean energy future, investing in a smarter energy infrastructure, creating jobs, and providing innovative energy solutions that customers want and demand.

 

Tom Kuhn is president of the Edison Electric Institute, the association that represents all US investor-owned electric companies.

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