Don't Let Climate Fears Block Potential Solutions | Opinion

This week for Earth Day, global leaders and environmental activists will pledge new actions to combat climate change. There will be demands that promises be kept and broad expressions of agreement. Hopefully, there also will be real progress made.

Tackling climate challenges requires a broad range of solutions. It requires new forms of energy, changes in how we live and new technologies. No single solution is adequate. But unfortunately, as fears about the effects of climate change reach a fever pitch, sometimes potential solutions become casualties.

In recent months, I've had a unique vantage point on this. My team and I are among several across the world that have been working to bring wireless power—over-the-air electric charging —to the world.

It's a technology that people have been clamoring for since the days of inventor Nikola Tesla. It's also one that technologists have long said could help make the world greener. The Institute for Sustainable Energy listed wireless power transmission as one of the clean energy technologies that could benefit from work currently being done by the U.S. military.

Then recently came a twist: Some headlines declared that wireless charging is actually a "terrible idea." What happened exactly? Different understandings of what the term "wireless charging" means and how it can operate got conflated. And unfortunately in this era, many people don't have (or take) the time to learn the nuances. Such headlines could sour people to an idea, blocking progress.

Wi-Charge
Wi-Charge working in a cafe. Wi-Charge

This Earth Day, let's make sure to absorb an important lesson. Developing solutions to the climate crisis requires taking time and focus to learn just how various solutions can work. Wireless power is a perfect example.

Replacing Batteries and Cords

One of the reasons I chose to go into this field was because I saw environmental opportunities. My training and experience as an electrical engineer showed me that a future world many of us imagine, in which there's no need to plug things into walls and buy many batteries, could be much greener.

Single-use batteries alone create "quite a heap of waste metal," and less than 10 percent of the 5 billion sold in the United States each year get recycled, according to the Sierra Club. Even many rechargeable batteries are no better when it comes to "ocean acidification, human toxicity (cancer effects), and particulate matter ... and may even contribute more to ozone depletion unless they're recharged around 150 times."

Electrical wires and cables also contribute heavily to an estimated 40 million tons of electrical waste each year. Much of this ends up in landfills, leaking hazardous chemicals and toxic substances into the environment. Wireless charging would help end this.

Solutions are Complex

Recent concerns expressed about wireless charging were based on a blog post about the inefficiency of using charging pads, which some people have for their phones and smartwatches. Over-the-air charging, which is different, is also less efficient than plugging a device into a wall because it requires energy to be converted into different forms more times, and the energy has to be captured by the device.

It comes in multiple forms. Most systems rely on radio frequencies, which have broad reach but can lose a lot of power en route to a device because they spread too well. My team set our sights instead on using infrared light to beam power to devices. While it's harder to create—we had to develop new building blocks—it's more easily directable and energy efficient.

Solutions Develop Over Time

As wireless technologies start to be rolled out across the country and around the world—my team has systems operating at retail sites in Texas, Michigan and Israel—those of us in this field understand that it's only the beginning. Over time, efficiency increases.

Wi-Charge
Wi-Charge working in a living room. Wi-Charge

Early incandescent light bulbs were quite inefficient, but they were eventually replaced by better bulbs. As technologies become available, more and more people come up with new ideas and ways to improve them. That's how technology evolves.

Whether it's wireless charging, solar energy or hydrogen fuel, the energy transformations ahead will take time and will go through multiple stages of development. Let's make sure to try everything that can help—and to not write off potential solutions before they've even started. Without opening the gates to disrupting new technologies, progress can't be made.

Ori Mor is co-founder of Wi-Charge.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.