Thomas Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors and whose contributions changed modern life, understood the importance of solar power in the world’s future energy mix and the danger of an over reliance on fossil fuels – and he had this understanding nearly 80 years ago.
Edison is associated with many innovations we take for granted today. Among over a thousand patents, Edison built on previous incandescent light designs and is somewhat inaccurately known as the inventor of the light bulb. Edison also patented a system for electricity distribution in 1880. By 1882, he had brought online the first steam driven power station at Holborn Viaduct in London. Edison also invented a battery system for electric cars.
But Mr. Edison also foresaw the threats associated with coal fired electricity generation and an addiction to fossil fuels as an energy source generally.
According to “Uncommon Friends : Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh” by James Newton; Thomas Edison is quoted as saying in a 1931 conversation with auto industry magnate Henry Ford:
“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Natures inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
While there’s no danger of coal, a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, running out any time soon; some assert peak oil has already arrived. Peak oil is the point in time when global oil reserves deplete to the point that production gradually begins to decline.
The “chopping down the fence” Edison mentions certainly rings true in terms of the environmental degradation we’ve seen to date from not only the production and burning of fossil fuels such as coal, but the future threat that climate change amplified by escalating emissions from these sources poses to the ecosystems that support us.
It’s taken nearly 80 years, but finally Edison’s vision of a solar energy revolution has begun in earnest; spurred on by not just governments and multi-nationals commissioning major solar farms, but also the millions of households around the world installing their own home solar power systems.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) – inventor, businessman – and solar visionary.