Electricity Is Broadcast like Radio Waves

This one is sort of a foundational principle of my world, and it’s one that’s going to take a lot of explaining. So don’t expect a satisfying report in one 500-word post. I promise I’ll come back to it all later, though.

Anyway, for now, here are a few key premises concerning power in the Hathor universe:

  • Electricity is produced abundantly, distributed intelligently, and sold cheaply
  • Virtually everything in the world runs off electrical power, and it comes almost entirely from renewable resources. That’s not because I have any axe to grind with regard to the burning of fossil fuels, but because I want my world to use lots of power, and I don’t want a fixed limit on availability
  • Electricity, like entertainment, is bought and sold in tiny increments, and individuals are only responsible for their actual usage. Also like entertainment, the cost is marginal enough to be of virtually no concern to the common man.
  • And finally, the electricity in question is distributed wirelessly, with almost total geographic coverage.

Of all these claims, the only one I intend to address today is the last one (which is probably the least remarkable). It has a huge impact on my world, though, and treads as close as this series ever really does to magical fantasy.

This premise is inherent in the books, from the very beginning, but it’s easy to overlook. Everyone’s walking around with headsets and handhelds — with lifesaving watches strapped to their wrists — and it’s easy enough to just think of our own iPhones and Bluetooth earpieces and solar-powered Swatches and none of it seems too sci-fi.

It doesn’t work though. Maybe a reader wouldn’t notice, but i have to live in this world, to immerse myself in it until it becomes real, and there’s one glaring problem when I try to use today’s smartphones and earpieces in Hathor’s world:

Downtime.

Charging a battery takes too long. That time — that time you spend charging your devices instead of using them — is too big of a disconnect. These systems are critical, especially when you think of the HIppocrates watch. No one would be willing to give them up for several hours out of every day just to keep them charged.

It’s the same problem electric cars face now. Charging them is a slow process, and with fixed capacity you can only go so far before your car becomes a very expensive paperweight attached to the end of an extension cord.

And if you were paying close attention to my bulleted list at the top of this post, you know I’m taking electric cars for granted.

The only way to run this much super-critical tech on electricity with little downtime is to run it “plugged in,” just like we do with our laptops. Sure, they’ve got batteries, but we mainly use those for backup power, for uptime as we move from one wired connection to another. In Katie’s world, that’s essentially how everything works — cars, watched, 3D animated billboards — except instead of plugging in to a wall socket, they pull power down from broadcast towers.

The good news is, it’s real. It’s possible (way back in 2006, even). Ars Technica says so, and who am I to argue? The bad news (as that article points out) is that it’s expensive. You have to produce and broadcast lots of energy for every little bit that actually gets captured and used.

And that’s where the rest of my bullet points come from. I need ways to generate more power, cheaply, and store and distribute it more efficiently. But those are nothing more than technical problems.

And more importantly, we’re already working on them. That’s a matter for another post, though.

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