Safely beaming electricity through the air is officially not science fiction. We revisit our season debut episode with a look at the future of wireless energy with Emrod Energy CEO & Founder Greg Kushnir.
The Future of Wireless Energy
Back in August, we kicked off our season with a deep dive into Nikola Tesla’s unrealized dream of wireless energy transmission. As a special follow up episode, we’re putting the spotlight on Emrod Energy, a New Zealand-based company setting out to make Tesla’s vision a reality. Founder & CEO Greg Kushnir joins us to explain how their technology can help accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy…without harming any innocent birds along the way.
Hello everyone, welcome to Look Both Ways. I’m Scott Hermes.
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Each episode of Look Both Ways follows a two act structure: First, an unsung failure of the past. And second, an unsolved challenge of the present. In our first episode of the season, act one told the story of Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower and the visionary inventor’s pursuit of wireless energy transmission. Act 2 put the spotlight on Geothermal energy: a less-talked about form of renewable energy with both extraordinary potential and plenty of unanswered questions.
If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, we highly recommend doing so, to gain proper context for what you’re about to hear. Because for today’s episode, we’re actually going to veer from our usual format and bring you a follow up to the Tesla episode. The section of the original Episode devoted to Tesla is about 20 mins long.
For a quick 20 second version:
Tesla was born during a thunderstorm in Croatia, came to the United States, bested Thomas Edison, invented our modern system of electricity, believed he could pump voltage into the ground and air to provide wireless power to the entire world, built a giant tower in New York to prove it, ultimately failed to convince enough rich people to finish the tower… and 100 years later we mostly know why it would have failed anyway, and Ethan Hawke sang a Tears for Fears song as Nikola Tesla in tribute to it all.
Energy Transmission: The Neglected Middle Child
In talking with Greg, he explained how the energy industry can generally be divided into three categories. First is generation. Developments in wind, solar, and geothermal all fall into this bucket. On the other end of the spectrum is consumption: How that electricity is used or stored.
In the middle sits: transmission. The awkward middle child. How electricity actually travels from a power plant to an outlet in your home. Aka – the massive network of underground wiring and above ground power lines that make up “the grid.” Of the three categories, transmission is probably the one you’ve thought about the least. Greg says that’s because it’s barely ever changed.
We’ve moved from horses to nuclear powered spaceships within 100 years, but we haven’t moved at all in the way that we move electricity about.
This is where Emrod is focused. In the most basic terms, Emrod’s system uses tall antennas to beam energy from one point to another through the air.
GREG KUSHNIR: It can be connecting a new solar farm to the grid, it can be powering a new cell tower, or an EV charger, it can be just used as a replacement for line and poles when you’re crossing difficult terrain. So really, anything between, you know, a few yards and many miles is well within the scope of what this technology can do.
Improving the TRANSMISSION side of energy, has HUGE implications on the other two: How it’s generated, AND how it’s used. For example: an electric truck delivering disaster relief supplies doesn’t need to also haul a giant battery if it’s being charged ALL THE TIME…THROUGH THE AIR. Crazy right?
Renewable Energy & Disaster Relief
Here’s more from my conversation with Greg.
What are some of the challenges that those energy providers face and how can you help them overcome them?
...our next field deployment, or it might be the next after that is demonstrating connecting a solar farm belonging to a company that has nothing to do with the energy generation, but they have a piece of land that they want to monetize. So they want to put in a solar farm. Now, in order to make money, they need to connect that solar farm to the grid. The local line company is not very helpful. I’m not gonna go into the details of why, but they’re essentially captive. Just like many other sustainable energy entrepreneurs. Yes, they can be put into generation sometimes, it’s even cost effective, but they still need to bring it to where it’s going to be consumed….
Now, we can help facilitate that. We can help make many, many, many more sustainable energy projects suddenly viable.
One of the use cases that you talked about earlier that sort of stuck with me was the idea of, you know, we’re certainly seeing storms taking out our energy grid. And so that reminded me of in the 70s, or the 80s, there was a bad ice storm in Quebec in Canada, and I think it took a month to restore the energy. Is this an area where your technology can help out? Does it do well, in cold weather? Is that a problem for wireless transmission?
Yes, absolutely. And I think you, you’ve pointed out one of the most important use cases for this technology, which is disaster relief….one of the applications that we are working on is mobile units, so truck mounted pair of antennas, if you have on scheduled or unscheduled maintenance in the grid, you can bridge that gap in the grid wirelessly by deploying, essentially two trucks with a transmitter and a receiver. So for disaster relief, that’s, I think, really crucial. It literally means lives. It’s not just convenience. So yep, truck mounted mobile outage response units are, I think, I hope would be quite interesting to see in the field. And I hope they will do a lot of good.
The Battery Problem
So remember the three major food groups to the energy pyramid? Generation, Transmission and Consumption. Emrod’s wireless transmission system can help new renewable energy sources get connected to the grid and it can help relay power to communities when it’s lost. What about how it’s consumed? Well this brings us back to the electric truck that never has to stop to charge. Greg explains:
in the shipping industry, when those large ships come into port, container ships keep running their huge diesel engines, so the refrigeration and the electronics keeps keep working. Now that’s not very efficient, or very eco friendly.
You can’t say, Yes, I’m going to, you know, make my plowing machine electric, when you don’t have a way to power it, when it’s going to be sitting in the shed for 48 hours to charge. So really providing the infrastructure that facilitates going electric, across all the industries, I think, is the main contribution of Emrod’s technology to sustainable energy. And indeed, to decarbonizing generally.
not everything can carry around heavy batteries. So for example, for a truck or a bus or ship to have these huge batteries that would enable it to store all the energy it needs for the trip. It’s a technological challenge. It’s also not very ecological, because you need to move around a whole lot more mass. So the idea is to utilize wireless powering technology. In those cases, rather than having huge batteries. You can think I think, I think thinking of a drone of keeping a drone in the air indefinitely, for example, without requiring charging, will give you some sort of a taste of what is it good for have been able to do that would open up opportunities like drone delivery, for example, or airborne sensor platforms.
Is Wireless Energy Safe?
Right about now you might be thinking: this sounds incredible, but also incredibly dangerous! Like we know to stay away from power lines, but now imagine invisible power lines?
Greg says no, that’s not how this works. Part of the problem goes back to Greg’s point about energy transmission being effectively unchanged for 100 years. Therefore our only frame of reference is power lines or other wired forms of transmission. Emrod’s technology works quite differently.