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Presidential Address to the
Junior Engineering Society

November 4th, 1892

(From the Transactions of the Junior Engineering Society,

Vol. III, Part I, pp. 1-14)

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On the Cost of Electric Supply




The interests of an Engineer are many sided. If he is to successfully use the forces of nature for the service of man he must understand how those forces work; he must in fact be scientific. It may be that his ideas are arranged differently from the ideas of those who study science for its own sake, and without regard to practical applications, but if he is to succeed they must be so arranged that he can deduce from knowledge already acquired, knowledge which is applicable to new cases which have not as yet come under his observation. The Engineer who can only do that which he has seen done before may be a practical man, but he will always belong to a lower grade of his profession. The scientific Engineer is one who by his knowledge of nature is able to deal with new engineering problems and provide useful solutions of those problems. But a practical man must be something more than a man of science, or rather he must look at matters from a different point of view. He cannot choose some feature of a problem, concentrate all his attention upon that, and leave other matters out of consideration, which is the process by which most scientific advance has been made; but he must always deal with the whole matter before him and leave no relevant question out. But an Engineer may be scientific inasmuch as he has knowledge of nature and the power of applying that knowledge in new cases; he may be practical in the sense that the means he devises to attain his ends may be complete at all points, and not break down from trifling defects, and yet may find that there are other subjects which he has to consider. Our complete Engineer must give his attention to commercial matters as well; he must know if, when he has devised the means to attain the ends in view, those ends when attained will result in a profit. He must recognise the conditions which render an undertaking economical to work, and which secure that it shall bring in a large return. When it has been my lot to address Engineers I have usually directed attention to some scientific point which I thought would be of interest to them. This evening I should like to go to the other extreme and deal with a purely commercial question, with a matter into which no science enters, and which relates entirely to pounds, shillings and pence.

Standing Costs and Running Costs

You are all of you familiar with the fact that the expenses of an undertaking may be broadly divided into two classes. On the one hand there are expenses which are quite independent of the extent to which the undertaking is used, and on the other, expenses which are absent unless the undertaking is used and which increase in proportion to the use. For example, the charges for interest on the construction of a bridge are the same whether that bridge is used much or little or at all, and the cost of maintaining the bridge is also practically independent of its user. The same is true in a large measure of a harbour or a dock. Such undertakings lie at one extreme of the scale. It is less easy to find good examples at the present day of the other extreme, as nearly all undertakings with which Engineers have to deal require the employment of some capital, and there will be a fixed charge for the use of that capital and for maintaining against the assaults of time the things in which the capital is embodied. But we can readily see for example in the case of a cotton mill that, if on the one hand there are expenses for interest and dilapidation which are independent of the amount of yarn actually manufactured in a given factory, there are other expenses for material and labour, and even for actual wear of machinery which will be very nearly proportional to the output. Undertakings vary enormously in the proportion of these two classes of expenses, in some the expense is quite independent of the extent of the user, in others it is for the greater part proportional to the


Load Factor

But undertakings differ from each other in another respect. In some cases the service which the undertaking is designed to render can be performed at a time selected by the undertakers; in others at a time selected by him to whom the service is rendered. In the case of most manufactures it matters not if the thing made is made to-day or to-morrow, in the morning or the evening, for it will not

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