wireless electricity
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
September 3, 2020 ·  6 min read

Nikola Tesla Proved It Was Possible. Now Wireless Electricity Is a Reality.

Over a century ago, inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla wanted to find a way to supply power without the use of wires. He was nearly successful with his creation of the Tesla Coil, and radio and television continue to use a variation of this technology today [1].

Outside of radio and TV, however, the Tesla Coil no longer has much practical application, and very little research and development has gone into wireless electricity since then. That is all about to change, as New Zealand energy startup Emrod recently announced that it will bring wireless electricity to the country.

Wireless Electricity: A New Reality

Most electricity requires long stretches of copper wire in order to bring power to any given area. For more remote areas with difficult terrain, or areas that can’t afford a certain level of physical infrastructure, eliminating those wires would make bringing electricity to those places much more feasible- all Emrod’s link needs is a clear line of sight [2].

The technology works using Emrod’s rectenna, which turns magnetic waves into electricity. It also uses a square element mounted on a pole that has a broader surface area to “catch” the entire wave of energy and acts as a pass-through point to keep the electricity beaming.

The beam itself is surrounded by a low-power laser fence so it won’t hit birds flying by or vehicles passing through. Emrod also says that it can drive out a truck-mounted rectenna to make up for any missing relay legs if there is a power outage [2].

No Loss Of Power

Normally, a signal that has to be transmitted through the air and then through a series of mediating technologies would lose its reliability, but Emrod says its relay technology doesn’t use any power, and loses almost none.

Emrod founder Greg Kushnir explained that most of the loss is on the transmitting side, and the efficiency of all the components is close to one hundred percent.

“We’re using solid state for the transmitting side, and that’s essentially the same electronic elements you can find in any radar system, or even your microwave at home,” he said. “Those are at the moment limited to around 70-percent efficiency. But there’s a lot of development going into it, mainly driven by communications, 5G and so on.” [3]

Of course, microwave technology is not new, and transferring energy with microwaves has been around for decades. What’s changed, Kushnir explains, is metamaterials technology. These new materials make it possible to convert energy back into electricity extremely quickly, which is what has made it viable for commercial use.

“So materials that are synthetic, man-made, and when you have waves, either acoustic or electromagnetic, hit them, they react like a new type of material. And you can design them to do all sorts of things,” says Kushnir [3].

Electromagnetic metamaterials can have small designs incorporated in them which allow them to absorb electromagnetic radiation and turn it into heat or electricity, or to make it disappear. Essentially, says Kusnir, it’s stealth technology that has been used in the military [3].

Eco-Friendly Power for Communities

Other than the ability to efficiently bring power to remote areas, the other benefit to this new technology is environmental. Many places that are off-the-grid use end up relying on diesel generators to provide power, which can have a negative impact on the environment. Replace those generators with wireless electricity, and your environmental footprint lowers substantially [2].

 “We have an abundance of clean hydro, solar, and wind energy available around the world but there are costly challenges that come with delivering that energy using traditional methods, for example, offshore wind farms or the Cook Strait here in New Zealand requiring underwater cables which are expensive to install and maintain,” Kushnir explained on the company website [4].

Kushnir wants to find a way to move that clean energy from where it’s abundant to where it is in need in a low-cost, environmentally-friendly manner. Through research, it appears to him as though everyone was fixated on the idea that electricity must be transmitted over copper wires, but he was certain there was a better way.

With the help of New Zealand scientist, Dr. Ray Simpkin of Callaghan Innovation, as well as some government funding, Emrod was able to develop a prototype. With significantly lower infrastructure costs, the company will be able to provide cheap, sustainable energy to schools, hospitals, and economies in remote regions in Africa and the Pacific Islands.

“The statistics are pretty compelling. We are talking about a potential 50 per cent increase in sustainable energy uptake, up to 85 per cent reduction in outages and up to 65 per cent reduction in electricity infrastructure costs due to the Emrod solution,” said Kushnir [4].

A Boost from Powerco

New Zealand’s second-largest electricity distributor, Powerco, has now invested in a proof-of-concept of the technology, which is a big benefit to the company- any time a new technology receives market traction it is significant.

Powerco says that it is interested to see if the technology can complement that way they are already delivering power, in particular to remote places with challenging terrain, as well as to continue supplying power to their customers when they’re doing maintenance on their existing infrastructure.

Emrod will be delivering the next prototype to Powerco in October, which will be tested over the course of a few months. This system will be small and will transmit only a few kilowatts, but the company says they can use the same technology to transmit one hundred times more power over longer distances.

“Wireless systems using Emrod technology can transmit any amount of power current wired solutions transmit,” said Kushnir [4].

Safety is a Priority

Kushnir is expecting some pushback from a certain segment of the population, specifically those who are against 5G technology. Unlike 5G which spreads everywhere and inevitably hits people, Emrod’s beams don’t hit anything but clear air.

He explains that the waves are relatively long, and there’s a significant amount of research on the effects of these beams on human tissue.

“It really has to do with the frequency we’re using,” he said. “It’s not laser, it can’t punch a hole through your body.” [3]

Furthermore, the levels of power density they’re using, aka the amount of power being delivered per square meter, is relatively low- about the equivalent of standing outside at noon in the sun. Kushnir added that while those levels will be increased, they will still remain quite low, which is one of the advantages they have in terms of health and safety [3].

Unlimited Potential

At this point the technology is still in its beginning stages, and the initial distance and power load will remain quite low, sending only a few kilowatts over a short distance in New Zealand. Kushnir says, though, that the hypothetical for distance and power load will be almost limitless- all they’ll need are bigger rectennas [2].

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