Wireless Energy Transmissions: Making the Seemingly Impossible Possible

 In 1901, Nikola Tesla began the creation of the Wardenclyffe, a “power tower”, foreseen to one day be able transfer energy wirelessly in all directions around it. But, soon after this project had begun it was scrapped, and the tower with it, due to low funding and lack of investors.

Fig. 1 Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower

One hundred and fourteen years later, scientists have finally taken Tesla’s work to the next step, and have succeeded in transmitting energy wirelessly. JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or the Japanese equivalent of NASA) has harnessed the power of microwaves, directed this power at pinpoint accuracy at a small target, and delivered 1.9 kilowatts of power 55 meters away for the very first time, no wires attached. Scientists aim to use this technology for the generation of solar power in outer space. But 55 meters is miniscule compared to the 22,300 miles away that scientists aim to place these solar stations. Yet, this could be a major breakthrough in renewable energy: humans may one day be able to harness a virtually undisturbable, inexhaustible source of energy. In space, there is never a time of day or type of weather that is unfit for the capture of solar rays. And we still have billion years, give or take a few, until our sun begins to die. 

Fig 2. What the solar panels in space may end up looking like

Technology like this has existed previous, but in different forms. First of all, typically, energy, or in it’s usable form, electricity, is transmitted via power or distribution lines or wires. In addition to wired transfer, there are also two different types of wireless energy transmission: near-field or non radiative, and far-field or radiative. Near-field is somewhat newly conventionalized, but nonetheless relatively commonly used for charging devices, such as phones, electric toothbrushes, and cardiac pacemakers. You may have see this method in your local technology store as a mat that you can place your phone on to wirelessly charge.

Fig. 3 An example of near-field non-radiative technology: the wireless charging mat

The type of wireless energy conveyance that JAXA has just now harnessed is far-field, or radiative transmission. Also known as “power beaming”, radiative transmission occurs via beams of electromagnetic radiation, such as microwaves or laser beams. The solar space stations would use the microwave technique to beam precisely pinpointed streams of energy down to earth.

Fig. 4 Another idea of what the wireless space solar panels may look like

Though inexhaustible radiative wireless energy seems to be faultless, as with any new innovation there are challenges as well as possible flaws. How will JAXA move this gigantic solar system into space? How will they choose to construct it? Maintain it? I assume that this process of but moving from the earth into space, and position will take years. And, what will it look like from earth? Will we be able to see it?

Will it be efficient, more so than existing solar panels? Though they will certainly generate a massive increase in amount, I hypothesize that there will be energy lost along the way, as 22,300 miles is an extremely long distance. And if the beam is concentrated and powered high enough not to be inefficient, what will become of the people, animals or objects that get in it’s way? After reading comments on what informed readers believe will occur, I have come to the conclusion that, because this beam will be incredibly hot, it could cook or vaporize anything in it’s way. Though a JAXA spokesman has said that this beam will not fry a bird or airplane in it’s path due to low-energy density, it is hard to make solid conclusions when this method has only been tested in the range of 55 meters and not yet an exponentially larger scale.

Fig. 5 A third layout of how these panels may be aligned, and how they function

The station itself is bound to cost millions, if not billions of dollars, which will either drive taxes or the cost of energy itself up. In addition, JAXA has been working on this Space Solar Power Systems idea for years, and has only made it to the first, vital step: transmission itself, and for only a short distance. A representative from the Agency has stated that it could take decades before the practical application of the technology becomes a reality. News providers and science enthusiasts have speculated no earlier than the year 2030 or 40.

Fig. 6 A group of JAXA Scientists

Though wirelessly transmitted energy will not be an innovation of the near future, I believe that when the Space Solar Power System is implemented, and the method is working, that it will change the way we think of energy altogether. In fifteen years, nonrenewable resources will begin to dwindle. There will be unrest, and slowly our beautiful earth will begin to be saturated with turbines and panels, streaking across the landscape. An alternate option will be desired, if not necessary. And what better option than putting these energy collectors outside of our world entirely, and making them infinite? It is unavoidable to state that wireless solar space energy could very well be our future. And if so, it will certainly be a bright one.

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The Duality of Science and Religion

Science and religion are often times considered to be far apart on the spectrum of academia. Nevertheless, the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI, also known as the “Green Pope” have effectively linked Catholic faith with working towards a more energy efficient world.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI installed over 1,000 solar panels in the Vatican. Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into solar or thermal (heat) energy. Figure 1 shows the highly efficient roof of the Vatican.

Figure 1

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Solar power is a clean energy source, meaning it’s efficient and renewable. Solar panels are “large flat panels made up of solar cells.” (seia) These solar cells are made of materials that, when struck by light, turn the energy within sunlight into an electrical current.  This electrical current can then be harnessed as electricity. Figure 2, illustrates this process.

Figure 2

solar-panel-diagram1

The most important thing to understand about solar energy, and all sources of clean energy, is that it generates electricity with little to no pollution or contribution to climate change.

The Catholic’s church journey to energy efficiency isn’t limited to the actions of the “Green Pope.” Last month, a group of Catholic Bishops from all over the globe “called on the world’s governments to end fossil fuel use…citing climate change’s threat to the global poor.” (thinkprogress) Climate change is any notable change in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns. It is attributed to large amount of carbon dioxide and other green houses gases entering the atmosphere. The majority of these greenhouse gases are emitted through the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy. The greenhouse gases that build up in the atmosphere “act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm.” This process is called the greenhouse effect.  This resulting change in climate is dangerous to the health of ecosystems and humans. For example, through changing the consistent climate of a region, the population’s ability to obtain water and maintain agriculture can be disturbed.

The bishops also called for a global agreement to lower carbon emissions. They argued that in doing so “the immediate needs of the most vulnerable communities” will be prioritized. The globe’s most impoverished populations are particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods, storms and other extreme weather attributable to climate change. The Catholic Bishops called attention to the moral side of energy efficiency by connecting the use of fossil fuel to victimizing impoverished populations.

The way in which the Catholic Church is able to relate an issue rooted in science to a question of morality is articulated when Daniel Stone notes, “Benedict (the Green Pope) is able to “inject morality into environmental debate. Changing light bulbs or saving a wild animal by protecting the habitat wasn’t about saving money… but was a religious obligation.” (nationalgeographic) Making clean energy the scrupulous choice is an excellent way to spread awareness of energy efficient practices.

Often times when people think of saving energy, it’s simply to save electricity.  Usually saving energy isn’t a a question of the right thing to do.  When Pope Benedict says, “If we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us, “ he makes saving energy a question of being morally right or wrong. Furthermore, he connects Catholic faith to preserving the environment through energy efficiency. I’m not religious, but, to me, tying energy efficiency to being ethically “good” is more affective than knowing that I save X amount of energy when I turn my light off or recycle. The key to getting anyone to do something is getting him or her to care. The actions of the “Green Pope” and the Catholic Church are a step towards doing just that.

Sources

http://www.seia.org/about/solar-energy

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/12/11/3602596/bishops-end-fossil-fuels/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/green-pope/

http://cleantechnica.com/2015/01/02/pope-francis-tip-balance-fossil-fuels/

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/#everyone

http://www.totalsolarsolutions.com.au/solar-information

Energiwende

Since the 1970’s Germany has tried to be a leader in the global energy transition. With an economy that is ranked fifth in the world and with one of the largest populations in the world, becoming a leader does not seem that hard. In 2010 the German government published a document that outlined the main components of Energiewende(energy transition). The document stated, “ by 2025, Germany aims to produce 40%-45% of its electricity from renewable sources, rising to at least 80% by 2050.” The government hopes to achieve these goals by reducing the number of fossil fuels, transitioning energy usage to renewable energy such as wind and solar. Since the beginning of the project Germany has succeeded thus far in achieving its goals.OG-AC406_ENERGI_G_20140826190004

However since 2011, when the German government passed the bill for Energiewende to begin, more and more local and international companies have casted their doubts on the project. The major concern for many of the local and international companies is the rising costs in energy. The locals fear that Germany will lose its competitiveness as one of the leading economic countries. The projects itself would cost about $1.4 trillion which is almost half of Germany’s GDP. Internationally the fear is that the cost of energy is too much and money will be lost. What have international companies done to express their concerns? What does the government promise to do?

Many international companies and a few local companies have reduced their investments in Germany because of the high energy costs. BASF which has one of its main plants located in Germany has decided to cut investments to just 1/4th of its 20 billion euros global investment over the course of the next five years. This is a significant reduction because BASF used to invest ⅓ of its global investments in its German plant. Now BASF is going to invest the extra money in its Asian and American plants. Local company SGL Carbon decided to invest $200 million to its plant in Washington instead of investing the usual $100 million in its home base in Germany. Thus far, the only international companies that have benefited are those who install devices that create renewable energy.

Although there are many concerns the federal government of Germany has continued to push the project due to its numerous benefits. The government claims the country will be a leader in green technology and that in the future the economy will reap in the benefits of renewable energy. The government also claims that the energy costs will decrease as soon as the renewable infrastructure is complete.

I wonder though if the government is thinking of the now. How does the government not realize that it’s spending most of its money on energy. Does the government not realize that many people are going to lose jobs?

P1-BR135A_ENERG_G_20140826173603

How much money Germany is spending in Euro’s on energy.

So I ask, What should Germany do? Should America follow Germany’s movement?

http://www.wsj.com/articles/germanys-expensive-gamble-on-renewable-energy-1409106602

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gm.html

Strides Towards an Energy Efficient World

Energy efficiency is, at its roots, the concept of using and wasting less energy. Many of the most pressing threats to our everyday lives are the results of our (meaning humans) failure to achieve energy efficiency. Of these threats are global warming, diminishing resources, economic turmoil, illness-causing air pollution, reliance on fossil fuel, etc. Examples of energy efficient energy sources include solar energy, wind, and water. Harry Verhaar, head of global and public affairs at Philips Lighting and chairman of the European Alliance to Save Energy, gives a very refreshing and inspiring take on energy efficiency that we should all try to adopt. “Its logical,” he says, “because we simply waste too much. Some people call energy efficiency low-hanging fruit. I would even say energy efficiency is fruit lying on the ground. We only need to bend over and pick it up.” The successful implementation of energy efficiency would ultimately benefit the global community in practically every way possible. Climate change would ease up, our huge rates of pollution would decrease, and our reliance on unsustainable resources such oil, coal, and fossil fuels would be reduced. From an economic aspect, scads of jobs would become readily available in fields such as building upgrades, energy-efficient vehicle manufacturing, and the engineering of energy efficient everyday appliances such as lightbulbs, stoves, houses, etc. Not to mention, the massive weight of an impending economic collapse due to diminishing resources would be lifted from our shoulders. As can be seen in Figure 1 below, we are only decades away from reaching our absolute maximum rate of unsustainable energy usage until we are bound by the law of limitation to cut back.

Figure 1 (http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Fossil_fuels_global_production)

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Despite the simplicity of Mr. Verhaar’s fruit analogy, there are many difficult complications that arise from making strides towards energy efficiency. Cultural inertia is a term used to describe the concept that humans are so incredibly adapted to their reliance on coal, oil, and fossil fuel that the sudden transition to using only energy efficient resources would cost unfathomable amounts of money and would bring some of the most influential companies in the world crashing to the ground. Other complications are public skepticism and financial constraints. Quite simply, nobody is sure enough that the transition to energy efficient resources will be worth the massive funding that it requires. Overcoming these hindrances will be far from easy but, whether, gradually or suddenly, we must eventually sever our reliance on unsustainable resources if we want our planet to survive.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/01/business/energy-environment/energy-efficiency-may-be-the-key-to-saving-trillions.html?_r=0

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/taking-the-risk-out-of-energy-efficiency

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/geography/energy_resources/energy_rev1.shtml

http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Fossil_fuels_global_production