April 9, 2021
Associate Dean for Research, Coventry University
James Peter Brusey
Professor of Computer Science, Coventry University
At the height of his career, the pioneering electrical engineer Nikola Tesla became obsessed with an idea. He theorised that electricity could be transmitted wirelessly through the air at long distances – either via a series of strategically positioned towers, or hopping across a system of suspended balloons.
Things didn’t go to plan, and Tesla’s ambitions for a wireless global electricity supply were never realised. But the theory itself wasn’t disproved: it would have simply required an extraordinary amount of power, much of which would have been wasted.
Now, a research paper has suggested that the architects of the 5G network may have unwittingly built what Tesla failed to construct at the turn of the twentieth century: a “wireless power grid” that could be adapted to charge or power small devices embedded in cars, homes, workplaces and factories.
Because 5G relies upon a dense network of masts and a powerful series of antenna, it’s possible that the same infrastructure, with some tweaks, could beam power to small devices. But the transmission will still suffer from the key drawback of Tesla’s towers: high energy wastage, which may be difficult to justify given the urgency of the climate crisis.
At present, the proposed system is rather reminiscent of the fictional “Wonkavision” in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which achieved the feat of beaming confectionary into TVs – but had to use a huge block of chocolate to produce a much smaller one at the other end.
Because it’ll consume a high amount of power compared to the power it’ll deliver to devices, 5G wireless power is, for the moment, speculative. But if engineers can find more efficient ways to beam electricity through the air, it may well be that Nikola Tesla’s dream of wireless power could be realised – over 100 years since his attempts failed.