Electrifying Society

Dark Light: Electricity and Anxiety From The Telegraph To the X-ray

3 min read

Dark Light: Electricity and Anxiety From The Telegraph To the X-ray By Linda Simon, Harcourt Inc., New York, 2004, 368 pp., US $25, ISBN 0-1510-0586-9

This thought-provoking book by Linda Simon, a professor of English at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., offers a cultural history of late 19th-century America, "when electricity was a force stronger in the imagination than in reality." She describes the deeply ambiguous feelings of many people about electricity and what she believes to be the present-day consequences of these views. Dark Light is history as seen by a humanist and very different from conventional histories of technology or science. Simon draws from many works of the time, including medical works, newspaper and magazine articles, and literature, to describe and understand an anxious age.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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