SELECT: How the current war changed the world

SELECT: How the current war changed the world

Alan Wilson, Managing Director of SELECT, the campaigning trade body for the electrotechnical sector in Scotland, talks about how electricians can continue to change the industry for the better.

14th July: the lights have gone out in New York City. Homes plunged into darkness, subways ground to a halt, communications down over large swathes of the metropolis.

It wasn’t as bad as the Great Blackout of 1977. After all, power was restored after about five hours, but it was a stark reminder of how dependent our society is on an uninterrupted supply of electricity, and how vulnerable it is without it.

It is apt that less than two weeks later saw the opening of a Hollywood blockbuster centred on the men who literally lit up the modern world with electricity, changing civilisation forever.

The Current War, released on 26th July, tells the story of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, the greatest inventors of the modern industrial age.

Before the arrival of these men, flickering candles and oil lamps lit homes when night fell, horses were the primary means of transport and polluting coal and wood fires were the only means of heating and cooking.

But, if electricity was an important innovation at the time, consider how utterly indispensable it is now.

It underpins everything in our everyday lives, from the internet and international communications to our cars, hospitals, homes and businesses.

As a source of power, it is about to revolutionise personal transport. Electric cars are without question the future, and they will also solve the climate implications of the internal combustion engine.

Up until now, electricity has had to be generated by the burning of fossil fuels or, even more controversially, nuclear power. Now, governments across the globe are moving to renewable sources.

The Scottish Government’s target in its Annual Energy Statement for this year was for 50% of all energy to come from renewables by 2030, up from just 20% in 2017. It is also targeting major increases in energy productivity.

The skills that are needed in the fast-paced and continually developing electrotechnical sector are as complex and demanding as those required for most levels of a traditional university degree.

That is why SELECT has been running a sustained campaign to have the status of electricians raised to that of a profession and to have Protection of Title – this means that people would have to be fully trained and highly qualified to be able to operate in the field.

In the early days of electricity, safety was something of a trial and error scenario, with the error part tending to be fatal. These days safety is the vital core of the industry. It’s the first and last consideration in all work undertaken.

This is yet another reason that only professionally qualified and accredited people should be able to undertake work in a field which is of such primary importance to us all.

It is impossible to know whether the early pioneers of electricity knew how radically they were going to change the world. But, it is encouraging to know that the current generation of electricians can continue to change it for the better.

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