Solar Power Harnessed From Space Could Be Wirelessly Transmitted to Earth

A company says it will one day be possible to beam power wirelessly from space-based solar panels down to Earth using electromagnetic radiation.

Emrod is a New Zealand-based technology company that is working on wireless power transmission.

On September 27, the company said it successfully beamed power wirelessly from a transmitter to a receiver across a distance of 36 meters (118 feet) inside a facility operated by aerospace company Airbus, located in Munich.

Satellite in space
A stock illustration depicts a satellite in space beaming a signal towards Earth. New Zealand company Emrod hopes to establish long-distance transmission of electricity via electromagnetic radiation, possibly from space to Earth. Yurkoman/Getty

The 1.92-meter (6.3-foot) diameter transmitter generated a 5.8 gigahertz frequency signal that travelled across the room and into a similarly-sized receiver.

Initially, Emrod hopes this technology could be used to transfer power across Earth, eliminating the need for high-voltage power lines.

In theory, wireless power transmission could have a number of benefits over wired lines, including fewer failure points such as weather disruption, lower infrastructure costs, and less electrocution risk from wires.

After that, a much more ambitious plan could involve satellites in orbit around the Earth generating electricity from the sun via solar panels. These satellites, equipped with wireless power transmitters, could use this electricity to generate a beam of electromagnetic radiation that would then hit a receiver on Earth and be turned back into electricity.

However, this is still a long way off, a company spokesperson told Newsweek.

"Our immediate commercial focus is on systems that can be used terrestrially, for use cases including connecting remote renewable sites, powering remote communities, crossing challenging terrain, disaster recovery and outage response, and powering large vehicles, such as ships and trucks, to support the decarbonization of industries," the spokesperson said.

"We expect to have systems available for commercial sale, with production and distribution channels established, within three to four years.

"For space-based solar power, the research and development roadmap is much longer and capital requirements much larger. It will take at least 10 years to establish a commercially operational system."

That said, the spokesperson added they are aiming to begin in-orbit testing within five years.

Emrod presentation
An Emrod presentation showing the company's development roadmap. On September 27, 2022, Emrod showcased its technology by beaming power wirelessly across 36 meters (118 feet) at an Airbus facility in Munich, Germany. Emrod

One of the key questions surrounding this technology is safety. Electromagnetic radiation can harm humans, as when ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes sunburn. The energy of radiation increases with its frequency.

The 5.8 gigahertz radiation used in the Munich demonstration was more than twice the frequency of the radiation used in a typical microwave oven. However, a typical WiFi router may also transmit signals of a similar frequency. The difference is the power behind the signal.

"Emrod's power beaming system is inherently safe," the Emrod spokesperson said.

"The density of the power beam and the frequency used means that an object would have to stay in the beam for more than a few minutes to experience any effect. This would not happen because we have designed a safety shut down system to prevent any objects from interacting with the beam.

"The laser safety curtain around the periphery of the antennas encompasses the entire beam and can detect beam incursions from the likes of birds prior to entry into the beam. This triggers a temporary power shutdown thereby avoiding exposure to the full beam power.

"For terrestrial use cases, the transmitting and receiving antennas are elevated above ground, just as high-tension cables are, to eliminate human intervention in the power beam."

Emrod hopes that a future solar power transmission system could prove a key technology in the fight against climate change.