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.
Indebtedness to oxygen
The chemist may repay,
But not the obligation
— 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.)