Recently here in the state of Washington a Tesla made headlines by going up in flames—and the fire started in the battery. Is there a writing lesson here?
photo by Plug In America
People assume that batteries are safe compared to something nasty like gasoline—and I’m certainly not saying this is evidence that Tesla batteries are unsafe. But consider: A tank full of gas has to contain enough energy to propel a car weighing thousands of pounds at freeway speeds for a considerable distance. A battery in an electric car has to contain a similar amount of energy. A moment’s reflection will reveal that the potential for fiery disaster exists with either sort of propulsion.
I already had this concept in mind because of a steampunk discussion at a science fiction convention. An artist there was an enthusiastic fan of a Victorian author who wrote about a fantastical machine that could fly from the temperate regions all the way up to the polar regions. The author glossed over the fuel problem by saying it was battery-powered. But the artist pointed out that a battery that compact that would contain that much energy would explode if it were bumped a little.
So go ahead and write your artful accounts of powered machines that don’t use a petroleum product. But acknowledge your readers will have a brain: incredible concentrations of energy will be dangerous. On the other hand, that can make for interesting plot complications.