As the focus of the governments all over the globe shifts to reducing dependence on oil for our energy needs, Solar energy is quickly emerging as one of the key potential energy source for the future. While most current applications are for self contained modular systems (example, highway signage, or decorative yard lights), there are many ideas that are being floated that have merit and we can expect to see a few of them implemented in the near future. New advances in transferring electricity wirelessly may serve up interesting possibilities as well. One of the first steps towards reducing our dependence on oil is to move away from internal combustion engines to power our vehicles.
Charging Electric Vehicles
Plug-in Electric Vehicles have been touted as one way of reducing our dependence on oil. However, the problems that prevent mass production of these vehicles include
- the small distance that can be traveled on a single charge, and
- the amount of time it takes to recharge the batteries completely (think overnight)
The solution to these two problems may be in sight.
Speeding up battery charging: Researchers at MIT have found ways to speed up the ion exchange process in Lithium ion batteries by 100 times, that will allow production of batteries that can be charged within seconds. Such technology can reach the market within 3 years as the change in production process from the current standard batteries is minimal. One stumbling block is that the standard household outlets can not be used for high speed charging and new specialized charging stations need to be built. This means that as the highway rest stops and service stations are reconfigured with this new charging technology, it will than become possible for a motorist to stop at a service station and charge the vehicle in the amount of time it takes to go buy a cup of coffee.
Charging on the go: Rapidly charging battery technology can be supplemented with the technology of remote charging. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is building a prototype ‘recharging road’ in its campus in Daejeon in South Korea. This involves embedding a recharging strip in the road surface, that will allow a vehicle with sensor-driven magnetic device to suck up power from the recharging strip as the vehicle drives over it using electromagnetic induction. This works without having to make direct contact with the recharging strip. Now, of course, the recharging strip will need to draw power from somewhere, and it could be either connected to a standard electric grid or possibly even use small solar substations along the highways. Some logistical details like billing and payments will need to be worked out but these are likely to be easy to solve.
We Don’t Need No Tethering
Fast Company ran a fascinating article on Wireless Electricity in its Feb 2009 issue which talks about sending electricity to devices through air without the need to use wires. The technology has been demonstrated to work and uses the electromagnetic induction process and will likely be available for public use within the next decade, or sooner (this is the technology behind the recharging strips mentioned earlier). When available, it will mean you as a consumer will no longer be tethered to an outlet in the wall, and you can move that Christmas tree anywhere you damn please.
Imagine harvesting solar energy through panels on your roof and powering all your household devices without the need to use any wires! May be your vehicles will get charged when they are parked in your garage automatically without the need to plug them in! Gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘Off the Grid’