From the phonograph to the motion picture, Thomas Edison invented dozens of devices that helped usher in the world we live in today, but perhaps none had as much impact as the light bulb. The light bulb helped to push the United States into a new electric future—one that today’s competitive power producers are still working to advance.
This makes Edison’s birthday on Feb. 11—National Inventors’ Day—a great moment to look at some of the inventors and inventions that have helped to make today’s electricity more reliable, greener, and cheaper than ever before. Electric competition continues to spur this innovation. Regions with independent system operators, saw an 80% increase in the deployment of utility-scale renewable generation capacity, despite only accounting for about 67% of all existing power plant capacity, of all types.
New York inventor Charles Fritts invented the first photovoltaic cell in 1883. Though Fritts was optimistic at the time that his device would compete with Thomas Edison’s new power plants, it would be more than 70 years before Bell Laboratories developed modern solar panel technologies. Today, however, solar is playing a more and more important role in America’s generation mix. EPSA member companies are investing in state-of-the-art solar installation across the country, none of which would be there were it not for Fritts.
Solar panels installed by Charles Fritts on a New York city rooftop in 1884. (Photo: Smithsonian)
People had been using windmills to pump water and grind grain for centuries, but wind power entered a new era in 1887. That’s when American scientists Charles E. Brush invented the first wind turbine to generate electricity. Brush’s device was improved by Danish scientist Poul la Cour in 1899 with the invention of more efficient turbine with fewer blades. As the U.S. invests more in renewable energy, wind power has seen a dramatic boost from the incentives and foundation created by competitive electricity markets. Many often point to Texas’ competitive power market, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which went from 116 MW of wind-powered generation when it was created in 2000 to more than 24,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity in 2019. Texas continues to lead the nation in wind power resources.
Charles Brush’s original windmill. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
In 2013, Jake Loosararian invented a robot that could crawl into physical infrastructure like power plants to collect data on structural integrity and other factors. He then founded Gecko Robotics to bring these devices to market. Using robots instead of doing inspections manually is helping power plants avoid shutdowns without compromising safety! To learn more about Loosararian’s invention, check out our November podcast.
Sometimes called renewable natural gas, biogas is methane produced through the anaerobic decay of sewage or animal waste. In 1901 British civil engineer Charles Carkeet James invented and built the first plant to capture and use methane gas for energy in Bombay. Today EPSA member companies, like Tenaska, use modern renewable natural gas technology to support their customers’ carbon reduction goals.
These are only some of the inventors and inventions that have changed how our world is operated. All across the country, competitive power producers, like EPSA’s member companies, are continuing to invest in new inventions like these – including cutting edge natural gas facilities, carbon capture and storage, some of the largest battery storage installations in the world, electric vehicle charging, transmission development, and more – to keep prices low for American families and businesses while continuing to reduce carbon emissions.
More innovation highlights from EPSA Member Companies: