Can Solar Energy Be Transported Wirelessly?


Solar energy is the radiant light and heat from the sun that can be harnessed using solar technologies like photovoltaic panels and concentrated solar power. Wireless energy transfer refers to transmitting energy from a power source to an electrical load without the use of wires or cables. The concept of wirelessly transmitting solar energy involves collecting solar energy in space using large solar arrays and wirelessly transmitting it to Earth receivers. This could provide clean, renewable energy anywhere on the planet. The potential applications include providing power to remote locations, replacing fossil fuels, and powering electric vehicles, homes and the grid.

How Wireless Power Transfer Works

Wireless power transfer works by using electromagnetic fields to transmit energy between two objects through inductive coupling. This allows electricity to be transferred without any physical wired connection. The technology relies on the principles of electromagnetism whereby a magnetic field can induce a voltage in a closed loop. An alternating current in the transmitting coil creates an oscillating magnetic field, which then induces a voltage in the receiving coil within close proximity. The induced AC voltage can then be converted into DC voltage for powering devices.

There are two main types of wireless power transfer systems – short-range and long-range. Short-range systems, also known as near-field systems, operate over distances up to 1 meter. They utilize magnetic resonant coupling between two resonant objects tuned to the same frequency. This allows for efficient power transfer over short distances, making it well-suited for charging consumer electronics. Long-range systems, or far-field systems, operate at distances beyond 1 meter. They utilize beams of electromagnetic radiation directed at a receiving antenna. However, maintaining power transfer efficiency over long distances remains a key challenge due to beam dispersion.

One of the main limitations of wireless power transfer is that the amount of power transferred decreases rapidly as distance increases. At longer ranges, keeping the receiving antenna aligned within the transmitter’s radiation pattern also becomes difficult. Overall, while short-range wireless power systems have proven commercially viable, scaling the technology up for long-range transmission still faces significant efficiency challenges that need to be overcome.


Previous Research into Wireless Transmission of Solar Energy

The idea of transmitting solar energy wirelessly from space has been explored since the 1960s. Some key early research studies and prototypes include:

A 1968 study by Peter Glaser titled “Power from the Sun: Its Future” proposed the idea of large solar arrays in space that could transmit energy to Earth via microwave beams. The study discussed the potential benefits but also highlighted concerns around cost and safety of wireless power transmission over such large distances (Source).

In the 1970s, NASA conducted further research into the idea and built a prototype called a “sandwich module”, which converted solar energy into 2450-MHz radio waves that could be transmitted wirelessly. However, the efficiency of conversion and transmission was very low.(Source)

In the 1990s, NASA’s Space Solar Power Exploratory Research and Technology program focused on wireless power transmission and studied issues like minimizing atmospheric attenuation and beam safety. However, technological limitations meant that wireless transmission was still not feasible.

Recent prototypes like Mitsubishi’s microwave transmitter in 2015 demonstrated wireless power transmission over 500 meters with 10% efficiency. However, current technology remains far below the efficiency and distances needed for viable space-based solar power satellites.

Ongoing challenges for wireless transmission of solar energy over long distances include minimizing beam divergence and attenuation, improving DC-RF conversion efficiency, and scaling up the technology while reducing costs and ensuring safety. Significant breakthroughs are still needed in many areas before space-based solar power becomes commercially viable.

Benefits of Wireless Transmission of Solar Energy

One significant benefit of wireless transmission of solar energy is the ability to place solar collection facilities in optimal sunlight locations, rather than being limited by proximity to population centers that require the energy. Solar power satellites in geosynchronous orbits could collect sunlight continuously without being blocked by nighttime or weather (Solar Power Satellites and WPT | Activities Portal). This would enable much higher efficiency solar collection than ground-based panels.

space-based solar arrays could collect sunlight continuously without nighttime or weather constraints

By transmitting the energy wirelessly, solar power could be made available almost anywhere on Earth. This widespread access would greatly enable adoption of solar energy beyond regions ideal for ground-based solar farms. Wireless transmission would allow solar energy to be a viable clean power source for more communities globally (Uninterrupted Power from Space: An Overview). The potential to provide sustainable electricity without geographic restrictions is a major benefit of wireless transmission of solar power.

Challenges and Limitations

While wireless transmission of solar energy is a promising concept, there are some key challenges and limitations that need to be addressed:

One major technical challenge is energy losses during wireless transmission over long distances. As noted in an article on WTE International, “wireless transmission of solar energy over the necessary 36,000 km (22,500 miles) means overcoming the problem of significant energy losses along the way” ( Significant advancements in wireless power transfer technologies will be required to make long-distance transmission viable.

Another limitation is the extremely high infrastructure costs required. Building solar arrays in space along with ground stations to receive the transmission involves major upfront investments. According to Inside Telecom, realizing the vision of space-based solar will require “an unprecedented scale of cooperation and funding” (

There are also concerns around safety and interference with wireless transmission of energy. Proper precautions need to be taken to ensure the wireless beams do not cause interference with aviation or electronic systems. Safety protocols must be rigorously developed and tested.

Potential Applications

There are several promising applications for wireless transmission of solar energy on both large and small scales:

For large-scale transmission, one option is to build massive solar power plants in remote deserts or other high solar resource areas, and wirelessly beam the energy to population centers. This would allow tapping into the abundant solar resources of arid regions that currently lack transmission infrastructure. For example, the DESERTEC project aims to exploit the solar potential of the Sahara desert in this way (ESA, 2023).

On an even larger scale, scientists have proposed launching massive solar power satellites into space that could wirelessly transmit gigawatts of energy to Earth using microwave or laser beams. While still firmly in the conceptual stage, space-based solar power could provide abundant clean energy globally in the future (Jiang & Zohrabi, 2022).

For smaller scale applications, wireless transmission could eliminate the need for wires between solar panels and devices, enabling new mobility and convenience. For example, electric vehicles could charge wirelessly in parking spots from solar canopies above. Individual solar panels could transmit power directly to devices in homes and offices without wiring.

Wireless transmission could also help integrate solar power with the existing grid by allowing dynamic directing of solar energy to where it is needed most. Intelligent solar transmitters and receivers could potentially balance supply and demand on the grid by diverting energy to storage when demand is low and retrieving it when demand peaks.

Recent Breakthroughs and Emerging Technologies

There has been promising recent research into wireless power transmission using optical rectennas. Optical rectennas can convert light directly into electricity by absorbing electromagnetic waves from a laser or other light source through an optical antenna and rectifying circuit. In 2018, researchers from the California Institute of Technology demonstrated efficient wireless power transmission over a distance of 1 meter using optical rectennas operating at 28GHz and conversion efficiency of over 40% ( Optical rectennas can theoretically capture and convert light across the entire solar spectrum, unlike photovoltaics which are limited by material properties.

Optical rectennas could overcome limitations of current wireless power transmission technologies that rely on microwaves. Microwaves disperse rapidly with distance and can pose health risks above certain power densities due to tissue heating. Laser power beaming using rectennas can achieve much higher power densities and conversion efficiencies safely. Rectennas can be made compact and lightweight using novel nanofabrication techniques like 3D printing.

Emerging flexible transmitting antennas and rectennas fabricated on thin films and fabrics open up new possibilities for solar power satellites and orbital solar farms that could beam energy to any location on Earth. However, technical challenges remain such as aiming narrow laser beams accurately over long distances through atmosphere. But if optical rectennas live up to their promise, we could see breakthroughs in clean space-based solar power within the next decade.

Expert Perspectives on Viability

While the idea of space-based solar power has been around for decades, researchers remain divided on the true feasibility and timeline for wireless power transmission. According to Dr. Paul Jaffe, a researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory, “Space solar is now at the point where it’s technologically feasible. The next level is economic feasibility.” However, others argue we are still far from viable implementation.

“I think we’re still easily decades away from that being a reality,” according to aerospace engineer Dr. Chris Hansen in an interview with New Atlas. “There are just tremendous infrastructure issues that have to be overcome before we can start beaming energy down from space.”

A key challenge limiting progress is the immense costs involved. “It’s very expensive to put things into space. With the technology we have currently, you’re not going to see a space-based solar system that can provide power 24/7,” Hansen explains.

While experts concur that wireless transmission from space-based solar is theoretically possible, tremendous obstacles around economic viability remain. Most researchers expect several more decades of development before we see practical implementation of wireless solar power from satellites.

Comparison to Wired Transmission

Wireless transmission of solar energy offers some advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional wired transmission via power lines and cables. Some of the key differences include:

Pros of Wireless Transmission

  • Lower infrastructure costs – No need to install expensive transmission cables and towers.
  • Reach remote locations – Can provide power to isolated areas without access to wired grid.
  • Mobility – Receivers can be portable to move energy where needed.
  • Reliability – Not prone to power outages due to weather/storm damage to wires.

Cons of Wireless Transmission

  • Lower efficiency – More energy is lost during wireless transmission.
  • Distance limitations – Effective transmission range is limited compared to wired.
  • Interference – Signals can be disrupted or blocked by obstacles.
  • Security concerns – Potential for signals to be intercepted or hacked.

Wireless transmission may be advantageous for delivering solar power to remote, hard-to-reach locations like islands, rural communities or transportation infrastructure. It can also provide portable, mobile power for things like electric vehicles, disaster relief and military operations. However, for widespread grid-scale power, wired transmission remains more efficient and cost-effective currently. As wireless power technology matures, it may eventually compete more directly with wired transmission in certain applications.


In summary, wireless transmission of solar energy shows promise as an emerging technology, but still faces significant challenges and limitations. Key points we covered were:

  • Wireless power transfer relies on converting electricity into electromagnetic waves that can be transmitted through the air.
  • Previous research has demonstrated feasibility for short-range wireless transmission of low power levels.
  • Benefits could include accessing solar energy anywhere without wires, powering remote devices, and integration into mobile technologies.
  • However, major obstacles remain around transmitting high power levels efficiently over long distances.
  • Recent breakthroughs in areas like metamaterials, beamforming, and resonance tuning provide optimism for future applications.
  • But experts concur more research is needed to overcome the barriers of cost, safety, and scalability.

In conclusion, wireless transmission of solar energy remains more theoretical than practical with current technology. While initial experiments show promise, it is still in the early research stage. Significant improvements in efficiency, distance, power levels and safety will be required to make this a viable renewable energy solution. With advances in materials science, photonics and wireless charging, we may eventually see this become part of our energy infrastructure. But realistically, wired transmission will continue to dominate for the foreseeable future. Ongoing research and development is still needed to fully assess if solar energy can one day be transported wirelessly at scale.

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