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Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group.

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The Wireless Power Grid: More Than A 100 Years In The Making


If you can imagine a massive, horrifying beast with some 6 million miles of tentacles that costs up to $33 billion to feed and $5 trillion to replace, then you can imagine the U.S. electricity grid.

But it’s a beast that can possibly be vanquished, finally.

How? Magnetic induction and resonant coupling.

Imagine a future where you can charge your electric vehicles while in motion using a charging mechanism built into the road on which it drives. Where the electrical grid is no longer reliant on power lines, utility poles, or expensive transformers and underground cables. A future where power companies stop chopping down trees that threaten nearby power lines. 

This might sound like a sci-fi movie, but the future you just imagined is nearly here, in the form of magnetic inductive coupling and resonant coupling.

Magnetic induction, or magnetic inductive coupling, courtesy of Nikola Tesla, is already a mainstay in small-scale technology such as wireless cellphone charging and wireless speakers. Transformers also use this technology, which allows energy to be transferred from one coil to another, but the coils can be only centimeters apart—any further and it won’t work.

Resonant coupling works similarly to magnetic induction, but allows for a greater distance between the two coils.  

Naysayers abound, but magnetic induction and resonant coupling is not just possible on a large scale—it’s inevitable. And none too soon, as the requirements for distributing electric power continue to change with the gaining presence of renewable energy sources and increasing fears of grid security and unreliability.

It may seem like a mighty big leap to go from wireless cellphone charging to a wireless power grid, but mankind has been known to make some huge jumps, courtesy of unconventional blue-sky thinkers, MIT grads, and deep-pocketed corporations.

To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that some of the most creative tech ideas have come from our creative visionaries in Hollywood. They’ve generated some spectacular ideas that have forever changed the world. Hollywood has already gone where no man has gone before, and the rest of the world has followed.

Fifty-one years ago, when “Star Trek” burst onto the television scene, minds were blown with the then-silly notion of a handheld computer. At the time, it seemed rather farfetched; the personal computer hadn’t been invented yet, let alone laptops and tablets. But here we are, with iPods and tablets and Chromebooks and smart watches. The sci-fi wonder was several iterations ahead of reality, and now the rest of the world has arrived, albeit lagging by a few decades.

Star Trek also thought up the universal translator, which was probably introduced solely to explain why everyone on the show spoke English even though they were supposed to be from different planets. Regardless of the motive behind this invention, that universal translator—then only a finished product idea that lacked even a hint of how to make it happen—is finally here. We have had Google Translate (granted, it’s not perfect) for quite some time now, but just last month Google announced its Pixel Buds, which can translate 40 languages in real time.  

Related: China’s Mysterious Arctic Silk Road

Hollywood’s thought contributions don’t end there. Next on the list is the holodeck. While it first appeared in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, it was actually thought up in the original series along with all the other cool gizmos, but was never shown on screen. If you’re under the age of 35 and have no idea what a holodeck is, just ask Siri, Bixby, or Alexa (yeah, the talking computer was a Star Trek invention, too) and she’ll explain, perhaps by showing you today’s version of the holodeck: virtual reality goggles.

Other Star Trek high-tech gadgetry also makes the list of up-and-coming reality, and include the communicator badge, which is currently in prototype phase, and the tractor beam, which is in development. And don’t tell your kids just yet, but even the hypospray is here.

And it’s not just Star Trek. Twenty years its junior, the “Back to the Future” franchise conceptualized even more things that were nonexistent then, but real things now.  It thought up drones, hands-free gaming, mobile payment technology, hoverboards, biometric devices, wearable technology, video calling, and probably the most relevant for our readers, the DeLorean—a car that can run on garbage and duals as a time machine.

Well, we might not have a car that can run on actual garbage, but eco-friendly hydrogen-powered cars are indeed here. As for the rest of the tech mentioned above…. yeah, we’ve got that. As for the time machine, that’s probably a bit further out.

The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.  — Nikola Tesla

It’s not just Hollywood scriptwriters who serve as the artistic muse for MIT’s high-tech hotshots. Wireless electricity was the brainchild of Nikola Tesla, who as early as the 1890s had grand ideas of a global wireless power grid—and some university students now think they’re well on their way to making his vision a reality.

A decade ago, MIT researchers proved that it was indeed possible to wirelessly power a light bulb more than two meters away­, and while it’s not exactly the finished product that Nikola Tesla had in mind, he would have been proud; it was the first such feat and a milestone for wireless electricity.

More progress continues to be made. This year, senior study author and professor of electrical engineering Shanhui Fan said in a June interview for Stanford News that they have developed a way to wirelessly charge moving objects—a clear precursor to wirelessly charging not just stationary objects but electric vehicles while in motion. The technology could make alleviate the concerns that currently exist in the automobile marketplace about how far an electric car can travel without a charge—a major hurdle to making EVs more prevalent on the road.

“We still need to significantly increase the amount of electricity being transferred to charge electric cars, but we may not need to push the distance too much more,” Fan said, adding that his hope is that “you’ll be able to charge your electric car while you’re driving down the highway. A coil in the bottom of the vehicle could receive electricity from a series of coils connected to an electric current embedded in the road.”

And this induction system, the “electric road of the future” if you will, is already being tested in France. Carmakers have yet to incorporate into their vehicles the necessary technology that would allow them to top up by pads under the road surfaces, but this technology is already being tried out in a test track near Paris. Full-scale introduction of this tech is reportedly ten years out.


 “Maybe 10 years is a good timescale for this technology,” Virginie Maillard, a senior Renault EV engineer said in an interview with Autocar Magazine. “We have to design cars and the road network to accept it.”

Back in 2012, Pike Research acknowledged the progress that had been made, but stated that the technology to replace existing utility poles with wireless power was decades away. But today’s growing fears about grid security and grid reliability may speed along its progression. Related: Chinese Crude Inventories Fall For First Time In 12 Months

United States President Donald Trump designated November 2017 as Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month. The Department of Energy approved two transmission projects this year, with the last one gaining approval yesterday: The $1.6 billion Northern Pass Transmission Line project will bring hydropower from America’s northern neighbor, Quebec, by tying the American grid to Canada’s and lowering the carbon footprint in the region.

The regulatory approval of two major transmission projects is a clear sign that the new administration is working to improve the nation’s infrastructure and streamline the federal permitting process, which may mean less regulatory hurdles for grid projects going forward—projects like a wireless grid, for instance.

A truly wireless grid isn’t something we’re likely to see tomorrow, but it’s likely to be a reality someday in the fairly near future, and the power industry from power companies to transformer and power line manufacturers—and everything in between­—should at least consider that future.

If Star Trek and other sci-fi ideas are any indicator, we may very well see the beast defeated in our lifetime.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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  • Steve (Olduvai.ca) on November 20 2017 said:
    I’m always amused when I read such cornucopian musings that discuss a utopian future based upon some techno-revolution that is ‘just around the corner’—still waiting for that flying car I was promised as a child in the 1960s (see The Jetsons). I have to wonder if the proponents of such grandiose schemes are aware or just conveniently ignoring the reality that we live in a world that is encountering some hard limits to continued resource extraction, widespread environmental degradation, and exponential growth of an economoic/financial system that is little more than a gargantuan Ponzi scheme—to say little of the cherry-picking of technologies to support their bias. As physicist Niels Bohr is credited with saying: “Predictions are hard, especially if they’re about the future”. But ignoring some real impediments to the widespread production and use on the scale discussed is true science ‘fiction’.  
  • Aquila on November 20 2017 said:
    Huge problem on wireless transmission of electricity using magnetic induction is huge efficiencies. The conversion of AC electricity of any voltage to a different voltage ALWAYS results in 10 to 30% loss of energy especially at lower voltages. Conversion of AC to DC and vice versa entails around 50% or higher loss of energy. Magnetic Induction transmission of electric energy is even more inefficient due to the diffused magnetic fields by the inducer and magnetic impedance in the receiving device. Magnetic Induction electric transmission only feasible for niche, small scale and proximate (near) transfer of electricity. (The sun has huge magnetic fields and would electrically fry ALL its planets if Magnetic Induction is efficient over any distance of more than a inch or two!) Unless new physics is discovered, like for example quantum properties, wireless transmission of electricity is not at all feasible for present day electric grids. (Think about why electric magnetic induction cookers are so widespread! It is because magnetic induction produces more heat than usable electricity!)
  • rk on November 20 2017 said:
    This is total nonsense. The writer should look at the replies from two electrical engineers where this article has been posted on Zerohedge. Ms Geiger wouldn't know but you must never turn aircraft weather radar on when on the ground because of the danger to people on the ground from the transmitter. The EMF required to charge or power most of our modern world through the air and not through wires or conductors would be highly dangerous and require unbelievably huge amounts of power
  • Paul Leo Faso on November 21 2017 said:
    The whole idea of transforming the ancient electrical grid is 75 years behind the curve. Those that cannot envision electric vehicles as not only transport modalities but actual rolling power cells, capable of harvesting their own kinetic and ambient energy sources to not only self power themselves, but to upload their excess power to the grid as they drive, are in for the biggest shock of their lives.

  • Mark Mellett on November 21 2017 said:
    I worked with magnetic induction (microwave) in the military in the 1970's. I was daily turning ingots of chrome steel alloy into white hot blobs of metal to cast into custom items in a matter of seconds.

    That casting machine had it's own power line to the street and I was told (do not know if it is true or not) that the machine during the melt phase had a magnetic signature more powerful than the Earth's. Dubious about that since the planetary magnetic field is pretty damned large and protects us from radiation that would otherwise strip the atmosphere away, and if it were that easy to replicate a planetary magnetic field why would we be worried about the one the planet came with naturally?

    For that matter we could easily install a magnetic field on Mars to rebuild it's atmosphere, but I digress.

    They tinkered with working models of wireless electric transmission in the late 18 and 1900's. I remember as a kid in Jacksonville, Oregon, touring a historic old house that had a working light bulb from the 1800's. They said that originally the bulb was powered by a Tesla wireless power source.

    But there are some things that make this technology unlikely any time soon. One, how do they meter it so they can gouge you for the power? If you can pull it out of the air at will they do not know who is using what amount or when. Do we just have a flat rate? How is that fair?

    What we do not know about science and nature is millions of times more than what we do know, but we do know many species that walk, crawl, swim, and fly, use magnetic fields to navigate. What does this do to them? What part of species problems (BEES? SALMON? BUTTERFLIES?) are already due to artificial antropogenic magnetic fields?
  • richard kola on November 21 2017 said:
    wow...more liberal tree-hugger pie-in-sky wet-dreams. I've been a practicing electrical engineer 25yrs....how did she become so "intelegent" and "knowledable" on this subject. ...she missed her lifes calling...should be an engineering professior rather than a "journalist"... we must remember that she is pontificating "liberal logic". the laws of physics are always different on Al Gores stovetop.
  • Thomas Haferlach on October 11 2018 said:
    I found this article highly enlightening. It really helped me for a research project I'm working on. The people commenting here are the same kind of people that would have said 15 years ago that the Internet is a fad. It's already possible to charge mobile phones wirelessly. Scaling these technologies up has never been a problem for the industry especially in areas with such high demand as electric grids.

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