A century ago, when electricity was being rolled out, London consumers had not only a choice of voltages but could pick DC or AC. Appliances, distribution and switchgear, lamps and outlets were all hand-crafted from Mahogany and brass and glass and porcelain. Moving house often meant buying a completely new set of electrical goods as the old ones only worked in Bloomsbury. The PR contests between the rival systems were bizarre - one involved electrocuting an elephant, I recall. Eventually we settled on a single system. Electrical Engineers will have a view on whether it was the right one or just the one that won the PR war.
Electricity was not without a rival system - hydraulic power. Using a distribution network of pressurised water, a new generation of domestic machines could wash, vacuum, chill, heat and ventilate. The roads were even dug up and so many miles of hydraulic pipes laid that contractors today are still removing them whenever excavating old roads. Hydraulic power stations were built and shareholders and investors wasted millions backing the Victorian version of Betamax. Electricity, of course, won.
But as an alternative to road fuel, electricity is an utter failure. News today that three-quarters of the electric car charging points installed at vast public expense have never ever been used should surprise no-one. After all, they were never intended for actual use; like those bizarre PR stunts of a century earlier, they were only ever designed as an advertising gimmick to get people to buy electric cars. "Oh no, madam" the salesman could explain "the Electowhiz can never run out of electricity - here's a map of the network of charging points across London". Of course, the only places left to site these charging points were spaces unsuitable for on-street parking due to endemic levels of car theft and vandalism or spaces too difficult to access for them to have been used for paid parking. In practice Fiona wouldn't even contemplate driving through the Mandela Estate, let alone leaving her Electrowhiz plugged in there for the day.
And of course if Fiona wanted to drive down to the country at the weekend to see Mums and Dads, she'd need either a proper car or a train ticket. "OK Mums, I'll leave at three and see if I can get on the A4 by four, then a hotel in Guildford for the night to re-charge the Electrowhiz and I should be in Newbury by Saturday lunchtime - and I'll need to leave at tea-time to get home".
If we need an alternative to petrol, diesel or methane it's got to be hydrogen. Hydrogen, so readily available from our vast coal reserves that the entire nation once used to cook and heat its homes with it. Mixed with the methane that also comes from fractionally distilling coal. A tank of Hydrogen will get Fiona home and back for the weekend and cover most of her week's commuting at a market price set in Reading not Dallas.
One day in the future some young chap from Conways or Murphys will break-out a rusted old charging post from the footway as redundant and unrecognised as a hydraulic mains pipe is today and wonder what the heck he's clearing.