05 Mar Laser Technologies and the Promise of Persistent Power
Like mobile connectivity before it, persistent power will transform the way we design, deploy, and harness networks in the 21st century. Persistent power is defined as clean, safe, platform-agnostic power that is available on demand, where it is needed. Persistent power is made possible by revolutionary advances in wireless laser technologies, and critical new laser beaming and shaping techniques, that make lasers safe for delivering power in any environment.
Whether cost effectively delivering clean power to mobile telephony networks in rural markets, accelerating the deployment of 5G networks in dense urban settings, delivering operational energy to organizations operating in the most austere environments, or even powering the growing number of space-based assets, persistent power promises to cut the final cord and provide unprecedented new flexibility and business agility to companies, organizations, and governments around the world.
The Mobile Analogy and Moore’s Law (for Lasers)
In 1984, the first commercially available cellular phone hit the market in the US weighing 2lbs and costing $9,831, in 2019 dollars. It stored just 30 phone numbers, supported 30 minutes of talk time, and operated on small 1G analog networks that lacked both coverage and capacity.
From those humble beginnings a massive market disruption followed with subsequent innovations in mobile device design, the deployment of advanced new digital cellular networks, and complimentary technology developments including the commercialization and expansion of the mobile internet. Together, those symbiotic developments catalyzed the creation of vast new mobile enabled markets including mobile search, mobile apps, social media, and location-based services, to name a few, and many of those services are now used by today’s 5.16BN mobile users.
Recent advances in laser technologies will catalyze similar disruption and innovation as the final technological cord, the power cord, is fully cut. With persistent power:
- Designers and developers will rethink how they build new sensors, new devices, platforms, robots, automobiles, and industrial machinery to operate more efficiently, cleanly, and profitably.
- Entrepreneurs will create new applications, products, and business models that leverage persistent wireless power in innovative new ways, as was seen in the wireless mobile market before it.
- The unique physical characteristics of lasers enable the fusion of data and power such that we no longer need build two entirely separate networks when we can deliver both power and data together more cost effectively through the same core infrastructure.
- This fusion will unlock unique new synergies and create enormous new value. Whether more cost effectively enabling the massive buildout of new EV power infrastructure or accelerating the delivery of power and data together to emerging markets, the creative disruption potential of cutting the final cord, and truly going wireless, is massive.
Like mobile connectivity before it, persistent power will start slowly as initial use cases, deployments, and business models evolve. We will crawl before we walk, and we’ll walk before we run. But the equivalent of Moore’s Law for lasers can already be seen as advances in laser efficiencies and transmission distances continue to grow while the cost and size for supporting technologies like photovoltaics, laser transmitters, and laser receivers all decrease.
Point to Multi-Point Power (Crawling)
The first laser power use cases revolve around point-to-multi-point power delivery, with a natural focus on addressing the critical and most costly “last mile” challenges. Wireless delivery of power to critical mobile telecoms infrastructure in remote areas will deliver substantial savings in trenching and cabling expenses and help to accelerate the delivery of connectivity into rural markets. Similarly, the ability to wirelessly power new 5G networks, especially in dense urban cities, will accelerate the ROI for the billions of dollars telecoms firms are investing in 5G.
Persistent Power (Walking)
As early adoption begins to take root, and early use cases prove viable and profitable, further adoption and innovation will follow. For example, as more distributed Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) infrastructure is wirelessly connected, hybrid networks of both wireless laser power and power over fiber will be combined to augment, where appropriate, traditional copper based electrical grids. Current estimates project that by 2030, there will be 50BN connected devices in the world, yet no one has a plan for how to power them all.
When combining this concept of persistent power with advances in autonomous systems, the opportunities for new technology developments, employment models, and business models are endless. Already wireless power has been successfully beamed from ground stations to drones aloft to power and sustain their activities. Building on those capabilities, and with expected further advances in laser efficiencies, autonomous systems combined with mesh network algorithms will help create “wireless smart grids” that can more cost effectively propagate persistent power through different nodes, platforms, and networks to wirelessly deliver power across the street or over the horizon.
The Fusion of Power and Data (Running)
As noted above, the unique physical characteristics of lasers enable the fusion of data and power together, meaning we no longer need build two entirely separate, costly, and redundant networks. In the future, we can fuse the delivery of power and data together creating synergies and value that will be counted in the trillions of dollars globally.
Perhaps most importantly, that means exciting new innovations are possible, especially in emerging markets where technology firms are actively pursuing the world’s next billion users. Traditional mobile operators can accelerate the deployment of both connectivity and power into their markets, while creating new revenues streams for themselves. At the same time, creative new disruptors are also seeking to deliver connectivity to those Next Billion User through exciting concepts like low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations and high-altitude platform stations (HAPS).
Whether beamed from a mobile tower or from a LEO satellite, the wireless delivery of fused power and data in emerging markets will help to accelerate the integration of billions of new consumers, entrepreneurs, and businesses into the global economy.
The advances noted above are exciting and transformative, and they are also inevitable. Safe, secure, and persistent power will only become more efficient and flexible over time as the version of Moore’s Law that applies to lasers continues to work its magic.
PowerLight pioneered many of these advances, creating the foundational end-to-end laser safety IP necessary to deliver the promise of persistent power. As a portfolio company within DoD’s Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund (OECIF), the PowerLight team has already developed and demonstrated key capabilities necessary to deliver wireless power over distance in support of a number of challenging DoD mission requirements.
PowerLight is now working with a host of commercial technology partners with unique and complementary core competencies in photovoltaics, autonomous systems, mobile network infrastructure, and directed energy to design and deliver persistent power solutions in support of clients across both the public and private sectors.
The new era of clean, safe, and persistent power is upon us. The team at PowerLight is excited to work with partners and clients across the public and private sectors to deliver on that promise.
Mike Hartnett, PowerLight Board of Advisors
Mike is an Advisor on the PowerLight team supporting our market development and commercialization efforts. He has more than twenty-five years of experience in the international telecom, technology, and defense markets and has worked successfully from venture capital backed startups through multinational corporate planning. Mike began his career as an Infantry Officer in the US Marine Corps. He holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Norwich University, a master’s degree in international security studies from the Fletcher School, Tufts University, and is currently conducting Ph.D. research into how the global adoption and diffusion of technological innovations are impacting international security and development.