Electricity in the American Economy: Agent of Technological Progress

Electricity in the American Economy: Agent of Technological Progress

Electricity in the American Economy: Agent of Technological Progress

Electricity in the American Economy: Agent of Technological Progress

Synopsis

This book documents and analyzes the existence of a strong, and growing, synergy between technological progress and the use of electrified production techniques in the United States during the twentieth century. The authors use two types of information in their work: case studies of the ways in which technological progress in particular industries and economic sectors has depended upon the adoption of electrified methods of production and aggregative long-term national economic statistics that measure the changing relationship over time between increases in the use of electricity and other factor inputs and the growth in industrial productivity. Eleven of the book's thirteen chapters cover the case studies, while the remaining two chapters and the statistical appendix contain the broad quantitative findings and supporting data.

Excerpt

A strong and persistent rise in the importance of electricity is one of the major long-term trends in the history of energy in the United States during the twentieth century. In a remarkable profusion of applications, electricity has penetrated deeply and brought important changes into virtually every corner of American life, whether in industry, in the home, or in the rapidly growing commercial and service sectors.

This study treats the ever-widening scope of these applications of electricity and their linkages with technological progress in specific industries and in the economy at large. We draw on two categories of data: (1) case studies of the ways in which technological progress in particular industries and economic sectors has been dependent upon the adoption of electrified production methods; and (2) aggregative long-term national economic statistics that enable us to measure the changing relationships over time between increases in the use of electricity and other factor inputs (labor, capital, and nonelectric energy) and the growth in industrial productivity.

Eleven of the book's thirteen chapters cover the case studies, while the remaining two chapters (and a statistical appendix) contain the broad quantitative findings and supporting data. We use these two levels of analysis ("bottom-up" and "top-down," so to speak) in order to obtain a more reliable and more understandable picture of the underlying trends, and the forces at work in producing them, than either approach could yield by itself.

The book's attention, then, is focused on the proliferating applications of electricity and their interactions with technological progress throughout the economy. The well-documented technological advances that have been achieved within the electric power industry are not covered here. It needs to be understood, though, that long-term improvements in the efficiency of producing electric power have provided the fundamental preconditions for the developments that constitute the subject matter of this study.

One important measure of progress in producing electricity is in the striking improvements that have been achieved in the efficiency of converting fuels into electric power in the course of the twentieth century. Measured by the relationship between the thermal content of the electrical energy produced and that of the fuels consumed in its production, there has been an increase in the average thermal efficiency of converting fuels into electricity from roughly 5 percent early in the century to about . . .

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