What’s Old Is New Again

I’ve mentioned before that in addition to being editor in chief to POWERGRID International, I also hold that title on Electric Light & Power, an industry publication that has been around for more than 95 years. We have a library here in the corporate office that includes every print issue of Electric Light & Power going back to the first issue of 1922. From time to time, someone will request a copy of an article or advertisement from one of those old issues. I’m always interested and entertained when I look through them.

I recently looked through some of the issues that were published in 1946 through 1948. This was a time when much of the U.S., especially in rural areas, was being electrified and many new appliances and machines were being introduced that made life easier for those who were fortunate enough to have electricity in their homes.

Much of the content in these issues focused on modern technologies and equipment that made infrastructure installation easier and safer, improved power plant construction and performance, made the electric gird safer and more reliable and improved the working conditions of employees in the field. A portion of it, however, touted the benefits of modern technologies and equipment fueled by electricity.

Many feature articles and advertisements introduced new electric irons, refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances and machines that made life easier for “housewives” and home owners. In 1946, one issue of the magazine focused almost solely on streetlights and the role they would play in cities of the future. Even earlier, in the 1920s, utilities sold electric lighting, not electricity, and as late as in the 1950s and 1960s, utilities set up showrooms to feature new all-electric kitchen appliances.

Such appliances and equipment are commonplace now and it’s hard for most of us to imagine a world without them. In the early to mid-20th century, however, they were new, unimagined technologies and electricity providers were promoting them to their customers. During this time, utilities weren’t promoting kilowatt hours, they were selling convenience and modern technologies that improved customers’ lives.

When did they stop doing this? Why did they stop? For the last several decades, utility customers have bought modern conveniences and technologies powered by electricity from other companies. Electric utilities have been OK with it. But, it’s time for them to dig out their old playbook and take a refresher course on offering customers the modern conveniences made possible by electricity.

On page 18, you’ll see an article by Mike Kaplan of Ecova titled “The Next Nest.” In it he talks about doing just that. On page 31, Tom Rooney and Bill Moran of TRC Companies explain how microgrids are a mega-opportunity for electric utilities.

You might think approaching customers and offering them modern technologies and mega-opportunities is a new concept for utilities. But, I can promise you it isn’t.

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