Theses Doctoral

Power Switch: The Electric Power Research Institute and The Pendular Political Economy of American Power

Lundberg, Emily Elizabeth

My dissertation tells the history of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the U.S. electric utility industry’s collective technology organization, founded at the onset of the successive “Energy Crises” of the 1970s. The narrative tells a history of EPRI in three registers: the organization, the people, and the ideas. It tracks the internal politics of the industry’s research and development arm through each of its five sectors—nuclear generation, fossil fuel generation, environment and safety, end use, and transmission and distribution. Each sector was buffeted by EPRI’s management history, what one EPRI career project manager dubbed, “Peace, a Civil War, and the Great Depression.” Embedded in each of these sector histories is story of the incremental shift from one regulatory regime, a “natural monopoly,” to an as-of-yet unrealized regime, the “self-regulated network.” When deregulation was imminent in the mid-1990s, utility executives decided that collaboration and competition were at odds. EPRI funding plummeted by half. Instead of making it to the aspired destination at the “self-regulated electricity network,” American power got stuck in an impasse I call, with irony, the “networked grid.” The “networked grid” is a rigid grid with information and communication technology laid on top so as to achieve the illusion of economic efficiency at the cost of reliability, security, sustainability, and physical efficiency.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
John, Richard R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 14, 2016