17. Did you know . . . ?
Technological advancements usually take off shortly after a major breakthrough has occurred. Electricity was discovered circa 1600 AD (or earlier). At that time, electric power had few other applications than creating sparks and experimenting with twitching frog legs. Once the relationship with magnetism was discovered in the mid 1800s, generators were invented that produced a steady flow of electricity. Motors followed that enabled mechanical movement and the Edison light bulb was invented to conquer the dark.
In the early 1900s, the electronic vacuum tube was invented, which enabled generating and amplifying signals. Soon thereafter broadcasting through the air by radio waves became possible. The discovery of the transistor in 1947 led to the development of the integrated circuit ten years later. Finally, the microprocessor ushered in the Information Age and revolutionized the way we live.
How much has the battery improved during the last 150 years when compared to other advancements? The progress has been moderate. A battery holds relatively little power, is bulky, heavy, and has a short life span. Battery power is also very expensive.
Yet humanity depends on the battery as a power source. In the year 2000, the total battery energy consumed globally by laptops and mobile phones alone is estimated to be 2,500MW. This equals 25,000 cars powered by a 100kW engine (134hp) driving at freeway speed.
Many travelers have experienced the exhilaration of take-off in a jumbo jet. At a full weight of over 396 tons, the Boeing 747 requires 90MW of energy to get airborne. The global battery power consumed by mobile phones and laptops could simultaneously lift off 28 jumbo jets. The energy consumption while cruising at high altitude is reduced to about half, or 45MW. The batteries that power our mobile phones and laptops could keep 56 Boeing 747s in the air.
The mighty Queen Mary, an 81,000 ton cruise ship measuring over 300 m (1000 ft) in length, was propelled by four steam turbine engines producing a total of 160,000hp. The energy consumed globally by mobile phones and laptops could power 20 Queen Mary ships, with 3000 passengers and crew aboard, traveling at a speed of 28.5 knots (52 km/hr). The Queen Mary was launched in 1934 and is now retired in Long Beach, California.
In this concluding chapter, we compare the cost of battery power against energy created by the combustion engine and the emerging fuel cell. We also examine the cost of electricity delivered through the electric utility system.