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Student Research Journal > Spring 2014 Issue
Spring 2014 Issue

Wireless Power Transmission

Robert Michael Kephart

Abstract

One thing that we all have in common is the fact that we are extremely reliant on electrically powered devices. Whether it is appliances, light fixtures, cell phones, or our favorite Christmas lights, we enjoy and rely upon products that are powered by some form of electrical energy. However, the convenience of these devices can be severely limited by the fact that they need to be in constant connection to some sort of power source, whether by a power cord or through battery charging. Unless well organized, there exists the probability of tangled power cords around the home. A solution for this is an emerging technology known as wireless power transmission, or WPT. It has the potential to eliminate housekeeping and safety issues related to power cords, and make our lives easier in the process. The purpose of this paper is to provide a business analysis of WPT, including technology, market, strategy, investment, and organization assessments.

Assessment of Wireless Power Transmission

Potential for WPT

New Wireless Power Transmission (WPT) technologies could enable the possibility of freeing electrical devices from having to be physically connected to an external source of power, and have the potential to impact the way we use electronic devices, similar to the advent of Wi-Fi with Internet use. For these and other reasons, researchers have attempted to develop methods of WPT that could cut the clutter or lead to clean sources of electrical energy. While the concept may sound like something from the future, it isn't particularly new, since “low power uses of the technology are on the market and new innovations are making it more appealing” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 98). Future potential for WPT includes a medium power capability which would extend this technology to its limits, and a high power version that could complement the electric vehicle industry (Gomatom, 2009). Eventually, wireless power may become a necessity rather than just a desirable concept.

Potential Mistakes, Pitfalls, or Traps Exist for Wireless Power Transmission

WPT does have some negative aspects that will have to be addressed prior to its recognition as a successful technology. WPT has an initial public perception of being hazardous, and has the potential to cause harmful effects to the human body because of its radiation. The safest form of WPT will have to be determined and proven to be successful based on the final application. WPT will be very expensive in the beginning due to the construction and placement of power transmitters and receivers needed to distribute the wireless power. The greater the transmission distance, the larger the equipment has to be, which can add considerable expense. Finally, the electrical devices currently in service by the consumer that are unable to utilize WPT will be of great concern, and possibly keep many people from switching to the new technology. Unless the end user is convinced that WPT is a safe, convenient, and cost effective alternative, most will be unwilling to switch.

Scope of the Technology Assessment

The scope of the technology assessment for WPT can be determined by defining the target market, the target customers, and how this technology can best serve their needs. The initial target market will be developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asian countries with a developed electrical grid system already in place. This would be due to the initial high cost of upgrading homes with WPT devices, and replacing current electrical devices with the new technology WPT devices. Eventually the target market will expand into developing countries where current electrical services are unreliable or even nonexistent.

The Technology Search

Currently there are several sources of information about WPT. Public licensors of technology which includes universities, government, technology transfer organizations, and independent research institutes provide great sources of information concerning the history of the technology, and the current status of the progression, and a vision of the potential of the technology. The Electric Power Research Institute has published an initial market assessment about WPT, which gives an overview of WPT, the current status of WPT, a technology and competitive assessment, risks and obstacles, a conclusion, along with a history and a connection to wireless communications.

Wireless technology has been around for over 100 years, pioneered by Nikoli Tesla, and has been demonstrated with limited success. Tesla’s idea was to develop a transmitter of great power to establish the laws of propagation through the earth and the atmosphere. The magnifying transmitter was Tesla’s concept to build a “world telegraphy center,” a base station that was 57 meters high and 37 meters underground (Gomatom, 2009). The use of electromagnetic waves for transmission of energy has been researched and tested since 1900, over different ranges of distance. In experiments around 1899, Tesla was able to illuminate lamps filled with gas (similar to neon) over 25 miles away without using wires by utilizing high frequency current (Gomatom, 2009).

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a team that is taking this technology to the next level. “Realizing their recent theoretical prediction, they were able to light a 60W light bulb from a power source seven feet (more than two meters) away; there was no physical connection between the source and the appliance. The MIT team refers to its concept as "WiTricity" (as in wireless electricity)” (Hadley, 2007, para. 4). Their research in magnetically coupled resonance is making this technology closer to reality and suitable for everyday applications since most common materials and biological organisms interact very weakly with magnetic fields, making this a safety consideration of WPT (Hadley, 2007).

Evaluation Process for Wireless Power Transmission

The evaluation process for WPT will primarily be based upon technology risk, due to the fact that the public perception is that WPT appears dangerous. The public perception of the health and safety of WPT systems must be assessed. In many cases, the approach of the existing wireless industry and public alike will be to expect that the new WPT systems will be hazardous to health and interfere with existing biological systems (Gomatom, 2009). “Human safety is protected by the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies. However, new technologies require reevaluation to assure that the regulations accurately cover all concerns appropriately” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 61). “Fears of whether electricity can be transferred to any metallic object in the vicinity of the source, especially for the products that uses magnetic coupling is another area of concern. The risk here is that WPT could induce currents creating a shock or a spark hazard. The concern that cell phones could produce a spark that ignites gasoline while motorists were refueling has now been disproved but is a good example of such a concern” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 62).

Due to the wireless technology, Radio Frequency safety is a significant concern, especially in areas of secondary and non-thermal effects. Currently, safety regulations for RF address only the thermal effects. “Most regulations essentially can be analyzed in humans as limiting the temperature rise in the eye to less than 0.5°C in the eye. The human eye has been shown to be the most sensitive part of the human body to temperature rise due to RF” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 61). Another concern for risk is the effects of RF on the biological safety of other organisms such as pets and livestock. Environmental impact is an area of concern that needs to be addressed as well. RF interference with other electronic equipment also will have to be studied, especially where it concerns medical devices and equipment. “WPT that creates significant magnetic fields would be of concern for equipment, such as Hard Disk Drives, credit cards or other devices using magnetic strips because of the potential impact from magnetic fields” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 62).

Commitment Posture of Wireless Power Transmission

WPT could be strategically postured as “Believe and lead; When the technology opportunity is very promising, the company may fully commit its resources to commercialization of an emerging technology” (Day, Schoemaker, & Gunther, 2000, p. 95). WPT has a very promising future. With the drive toward green energy and increasing cost of fuel, more people are considering the electric alternatives. Historically WPT has been facilitated through several mediums such as electromagnetic waves, microwaving or power beaming (efficient for transfer of energy over very long distances from earth to space and vice versa, such as the solar powered platform, SPS, and the Lunar Solar Power, or LSP), power beaming with lasers, and inductive coupling. There are several phases of WPT through inductive coupling that an organization can develop in a short term and long term goals. Currently WPT through inductive coupling, enhanced by magnetic resonant coupling offers the greatest benefits. Low power applications of the technology are already on the market, with improvements that are making this technology more appealing. While marketing the low power applications, the organization can begin performing research to extend this technology by seeking medium power development and applications. Finally, high power applications, such as recharging an electric vehicle by embedding a charging grid into parking spaces, which would automatically charge without a physical connection, offer exciting but long term potential. Then there is the application of WPT as a supplement to other technologies to create hybrid solutions, such as WPT coupled with high capacity capacitors to power sensors, or the use of WPT with fuel cells (Gomatom, 2009).

Current Government Role in Wireless Power Transmission

In 2007 the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office advised the U.S. government to lead in the development of space power systems. Other European nations are interested in the concept as well, while Japan has been spending millions of dollars on space power research for decades. U.S. government support would create jobs as the technology develops, and would ultimately lead to transfer and commercialization of the technology. However there are other obstacles to overcome before this technology can be utilized, due to the lack of inexpensive and reliable access to space, a necessity for the transporting and construction of the solar platforms, and the robotic technology for space construction (Gomatom, 2009).

Ensuring Customer Awareness

The recent growth in wireless data applications and the subsequent use of portable electronic devices has increased the potential for wireless power technologies. Research into and development of the latest wireless power transfer technologies to improve versatility, reduce costs, maintain connectivity, and eliminate the need for batteries is underway. WPT will have significant market potential in any application where power cables are inconvenient or use is not possible. It is likely to succeed where it is shown to be a better option to other energy sources such as batteries, fuel cells, solar cells, and energy harvesting. The public will become aware of this technology through advertising and through displays alongside our favorite electronic devices. This technology will have to be extensively studied, tested, and proven that it is 100% safe to use, and that it will not have any hazardous health effects on humans or any other biological systems, with assurance that this technology can coexist with other electrical equipment without interference (Gomatom, 2009).

Managing Markets

Existing Barriers for Wireless Power Transmission

Several barriers exist that potentially could hamper the success of WPT. ”The public perception of the health and safety of WPT systems is a huge factor in market adoption” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 12). The general public probably will anticipate that WPT will have a negative impact on health, and it will have to be proven safe for everyday use prior to success in the market. The wireless communications industry will have concerns about WPT interfering with transmission signals and will have to gain success by “insuring that WPT systems can harmlessly coexist with other existing equipment” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 12). There will be major concerns for WPT applications in the medical industry “because the consequences of interference can be significant, even life-threatening” (Gomatom, 2009, p. 13). An additional barrier that could impede wireless power transmission is induction charging evolving into the cell phone industry. Due to the circuitry that is required to receive the inductive power transmission and the good profit margins that manufacturers receive from related battery charging accessories, cell phone manufacturers are unwilling to consider WPT at this time (Gomatom, 2009). The electrical devices currently in service by the consumer that are unable to operate with the wireless power technology will be of great concern, and possibly keep many from switching to the new technology until it is phased in one device at a time. Eventually consumers will observe the benefits of WPT and will make wired devices obsolete.

Making Strategy

Scenario planning is a very effective tool used to visualize future challenges that are inherent with emerging technologies, and aids the organization in developing a strategy. Scenario planning takes available data and develops several probable states, or scenarios. Then each scenario reveals possible outcomes of how different elements might react under various assumptions, with a goal of constructing a plausible description of the future. Scenario planning attempts to develop a range of possibilities that would challenge managerial beliefs, and stimulate others to consider changes that would otherwise be disregarded (Day et al., 2000). The following are two possible scenarios for WPT technology in the year 2020.

Scenario A for the Future in 2020

In scenario A, the barriers for WPT have been basically eliminated and the technology has proven to be safe, reliable, affordable, and expanding. Market risks are minimal due to the acceptance of this technology, and it has become affordable to end users who are willing to switch to this technology. The initial public perception that WPT is unsafe has been proven false and most all households/industries are converted for various WPT applications. The customer base would include any users of electric power devices in the developed world who find WPT to be a safe and convenient alternative. Technical risks also have been minimized and home electrical and medical appliances have successfully converted to WPT technology, rendering the power plug obsolete. The industry leaders for WPT products have developed this technology into a feasible alternative to wired power connected products, minimizing organizational risks by implementing WPT business alongside existing business until cannibalized. Manufacturing processes for WPT have been optimized where high production volumes are able to keep up with demand and increase margins. Business models of WPT products have successfully passed through the awareness and acceptance stages, and WPT product offerings are available at all cost levels with good profit margins. WPT technology products are now evolving the low power home consumer products to the medium and high power applications, and high power applications are being developed including an induction grid embedded in a garage floor or parking space, which would begin to recharge your hybrid/electric vehicle as soon as you park on top of it, without plugging in, of course!

Scenario B for the Future in 2020

In scenario B the potential development of WPT has not yet been fully realized, and the technology has only emerged into low power close proximity applications. At best, a potential hybrid solution exists where the end user can have a choice to go wireless or maintain the physical electrical connections. This becomes a requirement for any medical appliance deemed necessary for life support applications. Major barriers still exist in the forms of safety and risk perception, economics, and maturity of the technology, which prevents the consumer of WPT technology to totally unplug. Market risks are high due to the relatively high cost of WPT technology with fractional profit margins. WPT products are considered high end appliances available only to those who are willing to pay the high cost. Industry leaders are limited to a few firms that specialize in both conventional and WPT electrical products. The business models in the industry are still focused on convincing the public on awareness and acceptance. Choices are limited and expensive compared to the conventional electrical connections, and only offered at high-end locations.

Scenario Themes Scenario A Scenario B
Consumer Markets End users in developed nations accepting and utilizing WPT as an alternative to conventional electrical connections. Only wealthy consumers who can afford the limited WPT technology products available.
Technology Low power WPT widely accepted. New product offerings in medium and high power applications Low power applications only produced in limited offerings at high cost. Medium/High power applications unsafe.
Industry Leaders WPT products developed and marketed with conventional products until cannibalized. Specialty manufacturers/high tech firms offering high end applications.
Business Models Unlimited selection/price ranges in low power applications, limited medium power, evolving into high power. Limited selection at high prices, focus remains on gaining awareness and acceptance

Investing for the Future

Since emerging technology organizations generally have extremely limited cash flows or collateral, organizations must obtain capital in order to support the uncertain costs associated with research and development of the technology. The financing can be in the form of debt or equity, each with advantages and disadvantages. For WPT, financing of choice would be venture capital, which has more involvement from investors to avoid the problems associated with asymmetric information and lack of collateral. The financing will be provided in stages to ensure option value by assuring that the decision to continue financing the technology can be correctly determined. The funds are provided for some or all of the stages, and usually the amount increases with each stage. The contractual arrangements are more complicated, and have characteristics similar to equity where both parties receive the benefits and rewards of the project. The U.S. government has encouraged venture capitalism by installing favorable provisions to allow greater investments, and also reduced capital gains tax rates, and offered tax advantages to investors involved in limited partnerships (Day et al., 2000). A benefit of the venture capital option of financing for WPT is that organizations and investors each develop a plan with a goal, and hold each other accountable. It takes major capital to fund the R & D of emerging technologies, and the partnership between the organization and the investor will help to facilitate that goal in a timely manner. If at a certain stage the investors determine that the technology will not be successful, they have the option to get out, before any more capital is lost. This will lead the emerging technology organization to provide a successful technology in a timely manner before anyone else can develop it, and take advantage of the new markets.

Rethinking the Organization

The organizational structure that appears to be strategically aligned with the emerging WPT technology is the Ambidextrous Organization form, which “creates an environment in which both established and emerging businesses flourish side by side” (Day, et al., 2000, p. 387). This would raise awareness of the emerging technology as a complementary product of an established and reputable electronics organization. As the technology is developing the company could continue to profit from existing technologies and fund the research and development of WPT. The organization’s “concurrent objective is to organize part of the same business unit around future technologies, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and speed to market” (Day, et al., 2000, p. 387). As WPT technology develops, these products eventually “compete head-on with existing products or even threaten to cannibalize them entirely” (Day, et al., 2000, p. 387). This would be a good future plan to use to develop an emerging WPT technology with the potential to evolve from low to mid to high power applications.

Conclusion

Future development and marketing of WPT is likely to achieve success in applications where WPT would provide an appealing option for providing power, especially in cases where running wires and battery maintenance is expensive or difficult to use. WPT is not new, but has a long-term potential for further growth in terms of medium and high power applications. The dominant barrier to WPT will be the general public’s concern that WPT can be hazardous to health and may interfere with other transmission signals. Two potential scenarios exist for WPT. One reflects consumer awareness and acceptance as the technology rapidly evolves from current low power applications to medium and high power applications. In the other scenario, WPT technology is slow to evolve and not readily accepted due to public perception of safety risks. To successfully finance this technology, venture capital seems to have the most appeal, with its government support through favorable tax structures and accountability. The best organizational structure for WPT would be the ambidextrous organization, as this organizational structure provides the ability to research and develop WPT while generating capital from existing sales of current technology electrical devices. WPT is an exciting new technology with many challenges, but the organization that can successfully harness its potential and evolve its capabilities will find itself on the leading edge of this emerging technology for many years.

Acronyms:
WPT – Wireless Power Transfer
EPRI – Electric Power Research Institute
MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
FCC – Federal Communications Commission
RF – Radio Frequency
Wi-Fi – Wireless Fidelity

References

Day, G. S., Schoemaker, P. J., Gunther, R. E. (2000). Wharton on managing emerging technologies. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, N.J.

Gomatom, K. (2009). Program on technology innovation: Impact of wireless power transfer technology. Initial market assessment of evolving technologies. Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA: Retrieved from http://www.smartgridnews.com/artman/publish/Delivery_Transmission/Program-on-Technology-Innovation-Impact-of-Wireless-2477.html

Hadley, F. (2007). Goodbye wires! MIT News. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/wireless-0607.html



Robert Kephart received his Bachelor of Science degree in Management of Technology from Athens State University in Spring 2013, while working as a Mechanical Project Engineer for Nucor Steel Decatur. He is a member of Delta Mu Delta and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Societies. Earning his degree has given him numerous opportunities to excel at Nucor, while contributing to make them a world class steel production facility. His wife of 22 years is also a graduate of Athens State University (Education), and they have 3 children. He enjoys his family, motorcycling, running, and golf.



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