The global demand for power to provide ubiquitous connectivity through 5G, 6G and smart infrastructure is growing. This report explains the prospects of power transmission; its economic, human and environmental impacts; and the challenges of making technology reliable, efficient, wide-ranging, and secure.
The following are the main findings of the report:
Lasers and microwaves offer different approaches to beam generation, each with benefits and limitations. While microwave-based sparking has gained more traction due to lower equipment costs, laser-based approaches are showing promise, supported by an increase in tests. successfully tested and piloted. Laser-based lasers have high-impact prospects for powering equipment in remote locations, low-earth orbit economies, electric transportation, and underwater applications. The main advantage of lasers is the narrow beam focus, which allows for smaller transmitters and receivers to be installed. Their downside, on the other hand, is disturbance due to atmospheric conditions and anthropogenic disruption, despite ongoing efforts to address these deficits.
Spark generation can rapidly decarbonize energy, enhance internet connectivity and enable disaster response. Climate change is driving investment in power transmission, which can support more radical approaches to the energy transition. Due to the continued availability of solar energy, direct transmission from space to Earth offers a conversion capacity that is superior to land-based solar panels when averaged over time. Electric vehicles — from trains to airplanes or drones — benefit from sparking by avoiding the disruption and costs caused by cabling, wiring, or charging landed again.
Rays can also transfer electricity from remote renewable energy locations such as offshore wind farms. Other areas where sparks could revolutionize energy solutions include refueling space missions and satellites, delivering 5G, and humanitarian response to disasters in remote areas or areas where networks are down due to extreme weather events, the frequency of which will increase due to climate change. In the short term, as performance continues to improve, spark generators have the potential to reduce the amount of wasted batteries, especially in low-power, through-room applications.
Community involvement and education are important to support the takeover of power. Lasers and microwaves can conjure up death rays and unforeseen health hazards. The public backlash against 5G shows the importance of education and information about the safety of new, “invisible” technologies. Based on decades of research, both microwaves and lasers have been shown to be safe. The public can live comfortably amid invisible forces such as wi-fi and wireless data transmission; power is simply the latest chapter.
Commercial investment in power transmission remains muted due to a combination of historical skepticism and uncertain timing. While private investment in future sectors such as nuclear fusion and satellites has boomed, the spark transmission sector has received relatively little investment and venture capital relative to the size of the opportunity. . Experts believe this is partly a matter of “first momentum” as capital allocators are waiting for signs of momentum. It can be a hangover from previous decisions to forgo the spark due to high cost and impracticality, although that caution based on earlier technologies has now been overcome. Power transmission also tends to fall between two R&D comfort zones for large corporations: it does not provide short-term financial benefits, but also is not long-term enough to justify steady financial flows.
This content is produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial board of the MIT Technology Review.