I just started reading "Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World" by Jill Jonnes and I'm already enthralled in it. Although she can be superfluous at times (and so was using that word), she paints an exciting story about the battle a century and a half ago to bring electricity to the masses.
We all know the ending (Tesla/Westinghouse and AC power won out, even though it was more dangerous because it could travel long distances more efficiently) but that's what makes it so interesting. Solar is going through a similar battle right now, and it is on the Edison and DC side (solar panels produce DC energy, and right now that has to be converted back to AC power to power things in your home -- hysterically it is actually converted back to DC power to power a lot of electronics) but updated to today's technology. He was an advocate of a distributed system of power generators; unfortunately due to the technology of the time there had to be a toxic, noisy generation station every couple city blocks. But in today's time, that is just the same exact thing as quiet, clean energy producing solar panels on your home's roof. They don't put off any toxic fumes, they don't make any sound, all they do is just sit on top of a small area on your roof that was previously just occupied by dirt buildup and bird shit.
Anyways, I'm sure this won't be the only post I write about solar and the "War of Currents", but it hit home when I just read about Edison's inspiration for his invention of the lightbulb. Jonnes writes, after Edison had just been introduced to arc lights:
"Then Edison rushed back to quiet, bucolic Menlo Park, his research workshop in backwater New Jersey, to throw himself into creating a better and more practical electric light. He worked feverishly, thrilled at the possibilities of this new field."
But the best quote comes from Edison himself, describing where he got his inspiration from, as Jonnes continues:
"It was all before me. I saw the thing had not gone so far but that I had a chance. I saw that what had been done had never been made practically useful. The intense light had not been subdivided so that it could be brought into private houses."
Jonnes then wrapped it up best with:
"Edison always liked to go after 'big things.'"
I felt connected to those words by Edison, because that's exactly how I've felt working at SolarCity. Solar is not a new technology; but widely-distributed, affordable solar is a new thing and we're working to help bring that to "private houses". It's all before us, whether SolarCity makes it long term, or the industry evolves and the next big player comes to dominate. The world will benefit from this "Solar Race" the same way it did with the "War of Currents" bringing electricity to the masses.
Jonnes goes on to describe how Edison got it right:
The man who came up with the best arc light system might well make a fortune stealing away even that 10 perfect of the gas lighting business -- that of streetlights. But the man who could subdivide the light -- to take it indoors and tame it into a gentle glow -- and power it with a dynamo, he would be the true Promethean, the blazing electrical pioneer, the hailed benefactor of humankind (and wealthy to boot).
Solar is doing that; we're "subdividing the light" by producing clean power right at the site that it is being consumed, or close to it if you're producing excess energy when you're not home during the day. Right now, we're just beginning to come close to the price of power generated by fossil fuels. But coal, oil, natural gas -- they can't come close to where we will be producing power, right at each home.
So that was Edison's inspiration, you might be wondering what his revenge could be? Well, it's likely going to turn out that he was right all along with distributed generation, he just wasn't alive 150 years later to see it overtake AC power grids today and in the near future. But with a much better technology than is coal-burning power stations of his day and age, distributed generation is inevitable.
Well, Edison will be right at least until fusion comes along.