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Beaming Up the Future

image credit: Emrod
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A New Zealand company is preparing to trial a wireless energy transmission system

 

Despite all the advances in electronics and technology over the past hundred years, one part has remained static: electricity transmission – it's pretty much how Edison and Tesla invented it, coming down wires, about 150 years ago. This is practical, and proven – 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' as the saying goes.

However it is not suitable for all locations: remote islands or areas of natural beauty are not ideal for strings of pylons. Far field electricity transmission by microwave is normally thought of as science fiction – like the idea of having energy satellites orbiting in space, and beaming down microwaves to Earth to supply all our energy needs from clean solar power has generally been thought to be a rather outré idea.

The basic technology has been available for a long time. Around 50 years ago NASA kept a helicopter drone in the air by firing a beam of electromagnetic energy at a receiver on the aircraft.

Now in New Zealand, one company claims to have created a practicable wireless transmission system. Parts of that country are rugged, sparsely populated, and expensive to deliver power to via overhead pylons or underwater cables.

The company, called Emrod, has developed a technology that converts electricity into electro-magnetic waves which can be sent wirelessly to receivers to be converted back into electricity for use in homes and businesses. The small issue is the transmitter and receiver have to have line of sight but this means that you just have to site these components carefully. Some areas of the country are so remote that they rely on diesel generators, which is both expensive and polluting.

Emrod is planning to deliver the prototype of this power delivery system to New Zealand's second-largest power distributor Powerco in October, with testing and a field trial penciled-in for next year. Powerco’s network transformation manager Nicolas Vessiot thinks that Emrod’s technology could complement existing power networks, and help with power outages or provide a parallel system when the primary power lines are undergoing maintenance. “We envisage using this to deliver electricity in remote places, or across areas with challenging terrain,” Vessiot said.

Although the prototype can only deliver a few watts of power, its inventors believe it can easily be scaled up. "We can use the exact same technology to transmit 100 times more power over much longer distances," said Emrod founder Greg Kushnir. "Wireless systems using Emrod technology can transmit any amount of power current wired solutions transmit."

Emrod says the system works in any atmospheric conditions, including rain, fog and dust, and the distance of transmission is limited only by line-of-sight between each relay, giving it the potential to transmit power for thousands of kilometers, at a fraction of the infrastructure costs, maintenance costs and environmental impact a wired solution imposes.

A low-power laser acts as a safety system: if a bird, drone or helicopter breaks the beam, the main power shuts off immediately. Emrod has been liaising with the Radio Spectrum Management authorities in New Zealand as there will have to be safety standards achieved, especially if the technology scales up to high power levels.

The outcome of the field testing of the prototype system will be interesting to transmission companies seeking cheaper and greener methods of delivering their electricity to the consumer.

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