Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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November 7, 2012

Thomas Edison's electric grid keeps serving

(Continued)

Still, what may be most impressive about the grid is that so often it functions well. That fact, of course, makes it easy to increase our dependence on it.

The story of the grid starts in the Big Apple with Thomas Edison. He was the first person to have a vision of what the grid could be and how much it could mean to our daily lives.

Famous for inventing the light bulb and phonograph, Edison also devoted a great deal of energy to the project of building the first grid. And I do mean building. A consummate inventor, Edison was also of necessity an industrialist. To make the first grid he helped manufacture such things as circuit breakers, fixtures, wiring and conduits.

Edison’s first major power station for the delivery of electricity to diverse customers was in Lower Manhattan on Pearl Street. On Sept. 4th, 1882, Edison threw the switch that activated the Pearl Street system. Juice flowed down the wires from six sets of steam-generators.

Once the switch was thrown, the energy of fossil fuels was converted via steam to electrical energy flowing through Edison’s wires. I would argue that day in 1882 set the stage for the revolution in modern living the nation enjoyed throughout the 20th century and down to our own day. Nothing is as transformative to the daily lives of citizens as a grid bringing electricity into homes, schools and businesses. As we have seen in the aftermath of Sandy, a world without a working grid is radically different from what we’ve come to expect in our daily lives.

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Dr. E. Kirsten Peters was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Her column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

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