Wireless Transmission in Earth's Energy Future

WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2002 (ENS) - Wireless energy transmission could be part of a clean, abundant energy future says The Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University. To meet the world's growing appetite for energy without environmental damage, electricity would be converted to microwaves, beamed over long distances by satellite, and then reconverted back to electricity.


Today satellites serve a variety of civilian and military needs like this U.S. Global Positioning System and Defense Support Program satellite (Photo courtesy Sandia National Lab)
The Millennium Project is a worldwide think tank that has evolved since 1996 with contributions from 1,015 futurists, scholars, business leaders, scientists and policymakers from more than 50 countries. In addition to its annual "State of the Future" reports, the Millennium Project produces studies in other specialized areas, including counter-terrorism strategies, future issues of science and technology, and environmental security.

If electric cars become popular, and current urban growth trends continue, humans will need far more electricity 20 years from now than we do today, an equation the Millenium Project is working to solve with unique combinations of wireless energy transmission and carbon sequestration.

Jerome Glenn, Millennium Project director, said Monday, "Instead of exporting oil in giant tankers, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Venezuela, and other oil producing nations could use their own oil and gas that is currently flared away to produce electricity locally and then beam it by satellite to other countries' receivers attached to local power grids."


Millenium Project Director Jerome Glenn (Photo courtesy YLE24 Finland)
The Millennium Project is currently in discussions with oil companies in Kuwait and Venezuela to explore this option. "This has the great benefit of reducing potential catastrophic oil spills, managing pollution more locally, and eventually opening up new energy sources such solar panels in Earth orbit," said Glenn.

New funding for wireless energy transmission research is being offered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Electric Power Research Institute.

National Science Foundation Program Director Dr. Paul Werbos says the long term goal would be to beam down solar energy from space to remote sites all over the world. This technology would provide "an affordable source of baseload electricity without producing either carbon dioxide or nuclear proliferation," he said.

"If research in carbon sequestration and wireless transmission of energy becomes serious, then one day oil producers could become electricity suppliers to the world without adding greenhouse gases, and a global energy grid could be in space orbit," said Glenn.


National Science Foundation Program Director Dr. Paul Werbos (Photo courtesy NSF)
The National Science Foundation plans to cooperate with the United Nations University and others to sponsor a series of workshops on how to sequester carbon dioxide from the air where it traps the Sun's heat, warming the planet. "The field is a ripe for new, creative high risk approaches, based on new partnerships between different fields of science," said Werbos.

To date, carbon sequestration attempts to remove carbon dioxide from power plants, at the point of production. But the world's greatest needs for carbon fuels occur in cars, trucks and buses, where that kind of carbon sequestration is impractical, the Millenium Solution said.

Future strategies for carbon sequestration include injecting carbon dioxide into the earth or into the ocean, separating the gases from the air and storing them by planting trees, and using chemistry to produce new products from these gases, such as methanol to fuel hybrid cars, and as an energy source for fuel cell cars.

There is no comparative assessment of these approaches, nor is any state-of-the-art research completed, so the National Science Foundation is exploring research to address this gap.


Clouds can act as a natural sun shield by reflecting light back into space. But NASA says that clouds can coat the skies like a blanket, trapping warmth. (Image courtesy NASA)
"By 2020, the world faces serious challenges in the global electricity supply, especially in areas of massive urban concentrations. We strongly support research into these two areas, seeing in them vast potential for meeting these challenges," Glenn said.

World energy consumption is expected to increase 57 percent by 2020 and to double or triple by 2050. The U.S. Energy Department expects most of the increase in energy production to 2020 will come from oil, natural gas, and coal, fossil fuels which emit greenhouse gases when burned.

If so, carbon emissions are expected to rise to 9.9 billion metric tons by 2020, more than doubling emissions of the past 20 years.

Developing countries are projected to pass the industrial countries in total carbon emissions by 2015.

Many of the world's aging nuclear power plants will reach the end of their life spans by 2020. Electricity loss from decommissioned nuclear reactors will need to be replaced, and the Millenium Project says that current renewable energy options will not keep up with demand.

Distribution of energy via orbiting satellites leads to a concept of energy management that views the planet as a whole - a world energy organization - a concept suggested Monday by the global think tank.

Meeting the world's energy needs "may require the creation of a world energy organization for the coordination of energy research, development, and assistance in implementing policies," the Millenium Project said.

The Millennium Project is organized into nodes located in Argentina, Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and Venezuela.

Each node consists of a group of individuals and institutions that identify creative and advanced experts to participate in Millennium Project research, interconnecting global and local perspectives.