Bristol sParkway

Just two years after the Department for Transport (DfT) seemed to be dismissing calls for more electrification of the rail network in a White Paper, there is formal announcement of the electrification of the Great Western route from London at a cost of around £1 billion. Admittedely, the DfT’s position changed somewhat when it was pointed out, inter alia, that persuading rolling stock purchasers to buy diesel-powered traction for a 30-40 year service life was going to prove difficult at a time when 30-40 years of affordable hydrocarbon fuel looked wildly optimistic, and that convincing them that fuel-cell technology would come to their rescue before existing diesel rolling stock had come to the end of its life was pretty much impossible. Needless to say, there are detractors stating that the scheme will cost too much, but what will probably be of more concern to many is the fact that this will place an even greater demand on the country’s electricity generating capacity – it does appear that more nuclear capacity is the only viable option in the medium term to meet the overall demand.

A related story reported by the BBC today concerned “Wireless Electricity”. Now this was first reported back in 2007, and without going into too much detail, the system is based on the fact that low frequency electromagnetic waves produced by one magnetic coil can cause resonance in a magnetic coil that is nearby; this transferred energy can then be utilised. Portrayed as an end to untidy wires, it may sound too good to be true, but it works. Just one small problem. At a distance of two metres between the coils, the system is around 40% efficient (or as I would prefer to see it, 60% inefficient). There may be a practical application, for instance in producing a “charging table” where you could leave your portable devices to charge, but as something that could be used effectively for mainstream electricity demands – for example powering a TV as suggested in today’s BBC story – the technology would be too expensive either to install (bury a coil in the wall immediately behind your TV – never to be moved!) or to run (just where else would you would hide your coil with its unsightly wires where it was close enough to efficiently power the TV).

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