Now and then, I wonder about the high-tech future that is said to be upon us. Any minute, I’ll be able to have a routine outpatient injection of nanobots that will enthusiastically nibble away any arteriosclerotic plaque I may have, leaving me with an athlete’s blood pressure. They won’t make any mistakes at all, such as accidentally eating away my adrenal glands or my recollections of Intermediate Algebra. Super capacitors or hyper batteries will shortly be invented by brilliant marketing guys working in one of those modest double-overhead-door units in an industrial park, so gasoline will become as quaint as buggy whips. Autonomous vehicles will seamlessly take over from the accident-prone, traffic-jamming, human-guided kind. To commute to work, we’ll just go sit in the car (which has no steering wheel or other controls), sipping coffee and reading the paper, as a vast computer network integrates our transportation requests into routes, speeds and lanes. We won’t need driving licenses, and speeding will be impossible. I can even doze and my car will let me know that I have arrived by “dinging” like the clothes washer or microwave do. Because I may in the interim have forgotten where I was going, the destination will appear on a screen along with a happy face, urging me to “have a great day.” As I take the elevator to my tasteful corner office on the 40th floor, my car will route itself to a high-density underground auto-storage facility.
It might not be quite like that because the scheduled breakthroughs that the futurists predict actually come at their own speed or not at all. And some of the fabulous new technologies might be very expensive—not for everyone; maybe only for presidents, big-time CEOs and the Sultan of Brunei. So, I sometimes imagine a world in which some but not all of the science-fiction occurs.
What if there is no hyper battery? It has already failed to happen on schedule once, when the state of California announced there would be millions of “zero-emitting” electric vehicles on its roads by a certain date. Didn’t happen. So, despite the present tremendous hype and the conviction that a nation that once sent men to the moon must be able to create any desired technology, what if it just remains an unsolved problem? What if electric vehicles remain expensive, short-range green curiosities? How do we go forward?
Trolley cars and electrified rail lines have existed for a lifetime. They work very well, indeed. They are powered not by unsatisfactory batteries, taking hours to recharge, but by the national power grid. Instant power—all you want. Let’s begin by electrifying the Interstate Highway System, an action that would accomplish something that even the most avid electric-vehicle advocates never talk about: operating long-haul heavy trucking on electricity. There are nearly 50,000 miles of Interstate highways, and we are told that one-third of the nation’s driving takes place on them.
Each vehicle will have a trolley, which picks up power from overhead conductors. We drive our limited-range battery-electric car conventionally until we get to the on-ramp, at which point up goes our trolley and we switch to mains power and automated operation (there will have to be two overhead conductors: one for power; the other for ground). At the same time, the battery in our vehicle—still necessary for travel on secondary roads—can be recharged. Billing and tolls will be automated. On the Interstate, every vehicle will move at the same speed, regulated by Federal authority. There will obviously be no passing, any more than there is on the railroads. To enable high-density highway use, vehicles will be spaced two feet apart, guided by the above-mentioned computer system. It’ll be like mass NASCAR drafting! There will be no failures because computers never fail.
The Interstate highways are said to have cost approximately $425 billion, and 50,000 miles of electrification plus any additional 1000-megawatt power stations would surely cost a similar amount. To give meaning to that, consider that there are maybe 250,000,000 registered cars in the U.S. Replacing all of them with Chevy’s “Volt” hybrids at $40K per would cost 10 trillion dollars. We’re talking big savings here.
Anyway, no worries. Whatever it costs, “quantitative easing” can take care of it. Remember: The printing presses in the national mint are driven by clean, variable-speed electric motors. Just dial up the rpm and anything is possible. Many thousands of new jobs will surely be created. Any extra electric power required can be generated on a traditional American free-market basis, which means our cheapest, most plentiful fuel—coal—will be used. Any other choice would clearly be government interference with free enterprise.
Motorcycles? Sorry, vehicles too small to support a trolley would be excluded from the system.
Am I dreaming? Or is this a nightmare?