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The Edison Name is Ubiquitous Across the Energy Industry

What’s in a name you say? Quite a bit, actually. Sun Edison’s recent and highly public bankruptcy filing reminded me once again just how much mind share and awareness the Edison name has within the energy category. Talk about brand identity! The day that Sun Edison’s filing hit the newswires, we received calls from several prospects asking us if Edison Energy was in any way related to Sun Edison. The answer, of course, is we are not, nor are the too-numerous-to-mention-here other companies that incorporate the name Edison into their company naming — think Commonwealth Edison, Consolidated Edison, Intel Edison Internet of Things Module, Edison Research and Detroit Edison, to name just a few.

To those that may not be paying close attention to these things, I can understand the confusion. After all, widely recognized company names are usually attributed to a single brand. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by companies building brand recognition within their respective industries or with the general public. Names such as Apple, Nike, Intel and Starbucks come to mind. All of these companies would unleash their corporate attorneys to vigorously defend their names if some other company tried to use it as part of their branding. It’s less common for a name with the kind of awareness Edison has to be used by so many unrelated companies. It is rarer still for a personal name to attain such broad and long-lasting use 85 years after that person’s passing. But then, Thomas Alva Edison was no ordinary man.

There is an interesting reason for how this came about. Due to the short duration of patents at the time, Edison allowed electric utilities to use his patents if they used his name. This is why today there are utilities and other companies that use the Edison name, but are not affiliated with each other. The fact that so many companies still want to incorporate the name Edison into their corporate identity speaks volumes to the magnitude of his accomplishments and the imprint the man behind the name, Edison, left behind within our industry and our country.

Brand identity is a fascinating and fickle thing. It can conjure up both positive or negative feelings or associations with brands, sometimes even the same brand — think Enron before and after its ugly meltdown. Yet the name Edison just keeps going, decade after decade, transcending different technologies and brand associations. What began as a brand identified with light bulbs transformed into a name associated with electric power and the utilities that dominated the creation and distribution of electricity for so many decades. Today, that is no longer the case. New sources of energy and innovative technologies are changing the relationship that users have with energy — creating a complex, yet exciting new energy future. By naming their company Sun Edison, the company no doubt wanted to tap into the positive legacy associated with the name Edison and connect it with our new and fast-evolving energy industry where solar power is starting to play a more prominent role in our country’s energy future.

While we wish Sun Edison well with its plans to emerge from Chapter 11, there is one thing I am sure of, some innovator with an idea for the next big thing to move our industry forward will find a way to incorporate his dream with the legacy of the name Edison. After all, some call Thomas Alva Edison our country’s most successful and greatest inventor. 85 years after he left us, it’s hard to argue differently.

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