NZ to trial world-first commercial long-range, wireless power transmission

Posted: August 4, 2020 by oldbrew in Energy, innovation

Nikola Tesla in the lab with a few million volts of electricity overhead.
[image credit: Wikipedia]

Sounds interesting, but of course experiments don’t always go according to plan – as Tesla well knew.
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A New Zealand-based startup has developed a method of safely and wirelessly transmitting electric power across long distances without the use of copper wire, and is working on implementing it with the country’s second-largest power distributor, reports New Atlas.

The dream of wireless power transmission is far from new; everyone’s favorite electrical genius Nikola Tesla once proved he could power light bulbs from more than two miles away with a 140-foot Tesla coil in the 1890s – never mind that in doing so he burned out the dynamo at the local powerplant and plunged the entire town of Colorado Springs into blackout.

Tesla’s dream was to place enormous towers all over the world that could transmit power wirelessly to any point on the globe, powering homes, businesses, industries and even giant electric ships on the ocean.

Investor J.P. Morgan famously killed the idea with a single question: “where can I put the meter?”

It has taken 120 years, but New Zealand company Emrod appears to have finally convinced a major power distributor to have a crack at going wireless in a commercial capacity.

Powerco, the second-biggest distributor in New Zealand, is investing in Emrod, whose technology appears to be able to shift large amounts of electricity much more efficiently, between any two points that can be joined with line-of-sight relays.

“We’re interested to see whether Emrod’s technology can complement the established ways we deliver power,” said Powerco’s Network Transformation Manager Nicolas Vessiot.

“We envisage using this to deliver electricity in remote places, or across areas with challenging terrain. There’s also potential to use it to keep the lights on for our customers when we’re doing maintenance on our existing infrastructure.”

Full report here.

New Zealand’s wireless power transmission: Your questions answered – August 04, 2020
An interview with Emrod’s founder, Greg Kushnir

  1. A C Osborn says:

    I wonder what the danger to humans is and to birds, bats etc?

  2. pochas94 says:

    I’d think this would be an easy calculation to make. I’m surprised this even got to first base.

  3. ivan says:

    Inverse square law. If they can repeal that then good luck to them.

  4. oldbrew says:

    The article says:
    Unlike Tesla’s globally-accessible free power dream, the power here is beamed directly between specific points, with no radiation around the beam, and a “low power laser safety curtain” immediately shuts down power transmission before any object, like a bird, drone, power thief or helicopter, can touch the main beam. There will be no difficulties this time working out where to place the meter.

    The follow-on interview (see link at end of our post) gives a bit more detail on that.

    Transmission efficiency is around 70% but they’re working on that aspect. It’s not intended for general use, more for specific situations e.g. where power lines would be difficult, small islands etc.

    From the interview:
    Transferring energy with microwaves has been around for decades. In the 70s, NASA showed it could support a helicopter drone in the air, charging it with microwaves from the ground. It’s been around for a while.

    What’s changed in the last few years is mostly metamaterials technology. New materials that allowed us to convert the energy back into electricity very, very efficiently. That was what made it viable for commercial use. Before that, it’s been around, but mostly used for military purposes.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    It uses lasers to detect things in the beam, like birds, and chops power. It runs in WiFi microwave bands.


    How much power leaks past or is reflected from the target antenna? If you are transmitting megawatts and your exposure level must be in milliwatts, thats a few orders of magnitude…

    About those lasers… how risky if not properly aimed? They claim long range, so must be pretty big power, or the claim is dodgy, or dirty foggy air will kill it.

    So any of {smoke, fog, birds, bats, drones, small children or large, planes, …} will cause the beam to be cut for safety. What happens when a few times a day a MW scale dropout / surge whacks your connection and equipment? What kind of leakage noise spike will that put in nearby wifi gear (like cell phones)?

    I think the issues with scaling up from their short range kW demo will be much larger than expected.

  6. Kip Hansen says:

    It has auto-shut off — “a “low power laser safety curtain” immediately shuts down power transmission before any object, like a bird, drone, power thief or helicopter, can touch the main beam.”

    Looking at the photo of a NZ forest — how often might the power be shut down by birds? Bats? debris in the wind?

  7. oldbrew says:

    It doesn’t shut the entire power down – see the interview…

    What happens when that cuts off, total blackout at the other end?

    No. Depending on the size of the antenna, we can cut off specific parts. There’s a whole lot of transmitting elements. We can cut off just the ones that are blocked by an object. So unless you have a helicopter hovering exactly in the path of the beam, any transient object will not have a significant effect on the power levels that are received on the other side.

    Also: There are laser safety cutoff systems in place, but even in the event that your hand got in the way of the beam, there’s not enough power density to cause injury through a short exposure – Emrod

  8. Curious George says:

    From the interview with the founder: “The [antenna] size is dictated by the amount of energy you want to transfer; larger energy, larger surface.” The inverse square law only applies to others.

  9. ivan says:

    A lot of hype with very little real substance – just what I would expect from newatlas. While they were Gizmag emerging technology magazine their reports were reasonable but they then morphed into environmental activism and I got banned from commenting.

    I note that the article does not mention that the company is sucking from the government teat for their R & D money.

    They used the red flag – computer models – to support their claims and they don’t say how much power their laser shield uses nor what its dispersion is nor its speed of reaction. The flat panels in their mockup pictures do not appear to have any lasers with the necessary optical focusing so unless they have improved laser technology the shield is only a very short range device, not something that would work over several kilometres.

    They admit to needing battery backup at the use end, I assume because they are not prepared to guarantee continual operation in bad weather.

    One final point, did they have real engineers look at their proposal which is essentially a flat panel microwave array and my experience with microwave relay systems says there is no way you can get round the inverse square law, it will bite you if you try.

  10. Dscott says:

    The question, is this another pie in the sky promise like fusion power? Does it actually scale up?

    Would this have better application in space? Say the moon to set up relay stations to overcome the 28 days of darkness a fixed lunar base would have to deal with?

    70% efficiency isn’t bad when you consider that the US electric grid loses almost 50% from point of production to point of use via the transmission and distribution lines. This is why in the US they are upgrading to 500k and 760k volt on the high voltage transmission lines. 13k volts just has too many line losses for the loads we deal with in transmission. IF they use it just in place of existing high voltage transmission lines with repeater towers, that could be a game changer.

  11. Dscott says:

    “The second thing has a lot to do with the power density. It’s not just how much power you deliver, it’s how much power you deliver per square meter. The levels of density we’re using are relatively low. At the moment it’s about the equivalent of standing outside at noon in the sun, about 1 kW per square meter.”

    So to transmit 1MW, 1,000 sq m antenna is required? Calculates to a 31.6 meter x 31.6 meter antenna. That’s in order not to toast anything. Not really viable in the US given we are pushing in excess of 20 to 100 MW through a high voltage line.

  12. Bill Treuren says:

    might work on fog at airports often you only need to make a hole in it to start it burning away.

    electrical transmission daft not enough density and bird induce intermittency, great.