When Conte Allesandro Volta invented the voltaic pile in the latter half of the 18th century, little did he dream he was giving propulsion to one of the most destructive weapons of all time, for without the electric battery, the submarine as we know it today would not exist. But Conte Volta did something else when he discovered the principle of the electric battery. Besides giving the submarine a submerged source of power, he also limited its submerged performance. Why? Because the electric battery, like any stored energy device—like the rubber band of a child’s airplane, for instance—is extremely limited in the amount of power it can store. In fact, the maximum voltage which can be obtained from an individual cell in any modern lead- acid battery is only a little more than two volts, about the same as Volta obtained from his first voltaic pile; and although the electric battery is the most practical means found to date for propelling a submerged submarine, it has also been the greatest single factor in limiting the submerged performance of submarines. It has limited their endurance and it has limited their speed. How important is submerged speed to a modern submarine?
The Impact of Nuclear Power on Submarines
By Commander G. W. Kittredge, U. S. Navy