Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest ones. Perhaps my favorite holiday gift ever was an electric kettle, a device whose only purpose in life is to boil water — but boil it efficiently, in a fraction of the time it would take for a kettle on the stove, and for a fraction of the energy, too. It’s simplicity itself — it has a coil which a current runs through. The coil gets hot, heats water in a chamber sitting above it, and voila! Boiling water. By my estimates, the electricity costs are about a tenth to a fifth of a cent for every cup of tea I brew.
The 23rd-century designers of the USS Enterprise seem to have lost this technology. To get a cup of tea, Captain Jean-Luc Picard stands next to a little box in his room, says “Tea, Earl Gray, hot”, and a cup of tea is beamed in. It seems to be an offshoot of transporter technology: you’re either beaming a cup made before from somewhere else, or assembling it whole from “pure energy” (whatever that means.) Either way, it seems to be a damn-fool way to make a cuppa.
E=mc squared, right? Each kilogram of matter takes 90,000 trillion joules of energy to create. The water in a cup of tea has a mass of about one-third of a kilo, so this is 30,000 trillion joules. But no technology is perfect: if the replicator is only 99.9% efficient, we are wasting 30 trillion joules into heat – enough to heat 100 million kilograms of water for tea… Just why are we doing it this way, again?