December 27, 2015

Idle thoughts on electricity

SOMETIMES I just sits and thinks. And sometimes I just sits. But on those rare occasions when I think, I think there are two major problems for the world to solve. The first is how to store electricity more efficiently. The second is how to transmit large amounts of electricity without wires.
Solving the second problem would make the first problem moot, of course, but since neither is anywhere near solution, it doesn’t really matter.
At present we hobble along by storing electricity in batteries. They aren’t very efficient. Think how often people have to charge their cell phones. They aren’t even safe. Think how many lithium-ion batteries overheat and catch fire in cell phones and Boeing 787s.
As far as transmitting electricity without wires goes, Tesla, the Great Electrician, was demonstrating 100 or more years ago that he could do it over short distances. And that is how radio works, too, of course. But what we need is a method of transmitting much larger amounts of electricity directly through space to the appliances or motors that need it, without frying up any soft-fleshed human beings who get in its way.
Imagine how the world would change if cars and trucks could drive endlessly on electric power. Better yet, imagine how it would change boats. No more smelly, heavy, complicated internal combustion engines. Think how the mammals of the sea would appreciate that.
But then, I think, if boats could use electricity to go anywhere in the world they liked, with power transmitted from satellites, or reflected by satellites, would anybody bother to sail any more?
Most small powerboats can’t carry enough fuel to cross oceans. You need a sailboat to do that. But if you could use clean quiet electricity to explore the glories of the South Seas, or cruise your own coastline, and go directly where you wanted, even if it were against the wind, why would anyone want a sailboat?
Of course, there is a glamour to sailing, a direct connection to the old days of the sailing ships and the mysteries and customs of the sea, which itself hasn’t changed in all the centuries we’ve known it.
We all know and understand that sailboats are largely impractical, but there is something about them that touches the human heart.
So when I thinks that it’s pretty certain that sooner or later mankind will invent a better battery or learn to transmit electricity, I also wonders if it will mean the days of sailboats are over, and how soon that might happen.
Today’s Thought
Indebtedness to oxygen
The chemist may repay,
But not the obligation
To electricity.
— Emily Dickinson, Poems
“Angela darling, the bank has returned your check.”
“Oh, wow, that’s great. What shall we buy with it this time?”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


57 Degrees North said...

I doubt very much if sailing will ever disappear. Of course it isn't terribly practical, that's sort of the whole point! Many of the other things that give my own life texture, shape and meaning, (fly fishing, backpacking, canoeing...) are also largely impractical and relatively pointless. The joy comes from learning and applying unique skills, and overcoming the challenges that each activity offers. It is the experience that matters, not the end result. Life after all, is a journey. The final destination will be the same for all of us, but it is how we get there that matters.

Eric said...

Virtually every road in America has a line of poles along side it (many on both sides) which is connected by some sort of copper wire strung between them.
What if, every pole had a vertical axis wind generator attached to the top of it? What if each generator was wound with aluminum wire, and permanent magnets, and the vanes were blow molded from discarded water bottles, and the total cost of each one was less than the cost of the pole it was standing on?
What if each one produced not much power, but together, they could power everything? (what if?)
How many poles are there?
Just a thought, if you can make it work, toss me a penny for every giggawatt for thinking of it.