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Wireless Reactive Power Transfer for Off-shore

Energy Harvesting
C. W. Van Neste1,2, and Satish M. Mahajan1
Department of Electrical Engineering, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN 38505 (USA)
Biosciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831 (USA)

Abstract-- A method of energy transfer originally The answer may be found in a technique that was
developed by Nikola Tesla, may allow the means to transmit presented nearly 110 years ago. In the 1900’s, Nikola
off-shore ocean energy, without the use of wires, to Tesla developed a method of energy transfer that greatly
distribution points inland. An experiment with this method differed from anything that is used today. His method
was conducted by powering a 25 Watt incandescent light combined techniques that our modern era divides into
bulb at a distance of 20 meters along a 4.5 meter water
channel. The salinity of water was increased until it
two fields (radio and power engineering). At the core of
approached that of ocean concentrations. Full energy this technology was the ability to create a closed circuit
transmission was observed at resistance levels even higher path without a return wire. With this ability, Tesla
than those in ocean measurements. proposed a system to deliver industrial levels of power
and telecommunications globally [5]. Unfortunately, his
Index Terms— Nikola Tesla, Ocean, Reactive Power, plan was never realized. Yet, enough literature still
Wireless Transmission remains to allow the re-introduction of Tesla’s dream [6].
In this paper, the Tesla method was used to operate a
I. INTRODUCTION 25 Watt incandescent light bulb over a distance of 20
The ocean holds a vast reservoir of untapped, clean meters. A non-radiating, low voltage, magnifying
energy. By utilizing the tide, wind, or ocean waves, this transformer was used as the transmitter. The operating
energy can be readily harvested. However, once frequency was 580,000 Hz. The goal of the experiment
collected, there are problems in transmitting that energy was to show the feasibility of transmitting power in this
to the mainland for distribution. Wires may be stretched fashion and to study the dependency of water resistance
across the seabed, yet water treeing and other phenomena on the receiving power.
associated with water contact will reduce the lifetime of
the wires [1], [2]. If these wires are placed above the II. TESLA TRANSMISSION
ocean, the problems intensify with increased construction Conventional methods of power distribution rely on
and maintenance costs, danger from storms, active power transfer. Transmitting wires convey energy
transportation barriers, and reduction of beach aesthetics. to a distance while the earth (in some situations) makes
One solution to these problems may be the removal of an electrical return path. Thus, a standard two-wire
the wires completely. In accomplishing such a task, the system is commonly used. Great care is needed to
method invoked would need to allow long distance and maintain an in-phase voltage/current relationship for
safe energy transfer with decent efficiencies. Modern maximum power efficiency.
wireless power transmission has mainly focused on In Tesla’s method, real power is converted to reactive
microwave beam applications to send energy from one power before transmission. A single wire is then used as
location to another [3]. Although the distances in the transmitting and returning path, simultaneously. By
microwave transmission may be large and the power designing the transmitter and receiver to be electrical
efficiency high, contact with the beam can be extremely resonant cavities operating at wavelength multiples
dangerous, if not always fatal. Another disadvantage is (usually a quarter wavelength), the reactive power
the need for line-of-sight targeting. collected by the receiver is reflected back to the
Recent research by Kurs et al. has demonstrated transmitter. Electrical standing waves develop between
wireless power transmission at distances of 2 m [4]. the two devices. The standing waves produce a pseudo
Although the range is short, the method appears safe with two-wire closed system where charge transmitted is
decent efficiency, and no line-of-sight targeting. Kurs et returned via the same wire.
al. predict a maximum transfer range of 10m – utilizing It is well known that the earth may act as a conductor
an optimized system. This would allow the transmission with a low frequency bandwidth [5]. The single wire
of ocean energy in certain, limited, situations. For described above may be replaced with an earth
utilization of large-scale ocean resources, longer connection. In this situation, the electrical oscillations
distances would be required. The question must then be expand outward along the ground such that their
asked; is there any method that may satisfy the distances, propagation distance dependents on the AC frequency
health risks, and efficiencies needed for off-shore energy and voltage developed at the transmitter.

978-1-4244-2544-0/08/$20.00 ©2009 IEEE 504

When a single terminal of a high quality (Q) coil is primary, a 1.524 m (5 ft) coil was connected to a 20 nF
grounded, the oscillations energize the coil, driving it into high-voltage (HV) capacitor. The coil was built on a
a quarter wave resonance. When energized, the high-Q sliding wooden ring to allow adjustment of its
coil exhibits a voltage anti-node at the top terminal and a inductance. A carbon spark gap (SG) was used as a
current anti-node at the ground terminal. It can be readily passive switch. When the voltage from a 5000 V, 120
seen that the coil’s top portion thus produces a location of mA (Glassman High Voltage Inc. EK Series) power
maximum electric field flux, while the bottom portion supply reached the set breakdown point, the spark gap
generates a maximum magnetic flux. would fire, discharging the capacitor through the
The power received by the resonating coil may be inductor. The inductance of the primary coil was tuned to
inductively converted back to real power through approximately 3.765 μH. Combined with the 20 nF
magnetic coupling of a pickup coil at the current anti- capacitor, this produced a resonant frequency of 580,000
node. By loading the pickup coil, the oscillations become Hz. The repetition rate of the spark gap was 200 Hz.
damped and the power needed to sustain those The secondary consisted of two inductors made of 10
oscillations is directed back to the generating source. gauge AWG wire connected in series. The top inductor,
Thus, power from the generator can be reactively labeled as the resonator in Figure 1, acted as a resonant
transmitted to a receiver by a resonant coupling through cavity and was designed to exhibit a voltage standing
the ground plane. It should be noted that this is different wave anti-node at its top terminal. The inductance of this
from the coupled magnetic resonance technique that coil was 3mH with a wire length matching a quarter
utilized the radiated magnetic fields to link the transmitter wavelength of the operating frequency – 129 m (424 ft).
to the receiver [4]. In the magnetic resonance technique, The bottom inductor, labeled as the driver, was closely
the transmitting distance is greatly reduced since the coupled to the primary and acted as a conventional
magnetic field falls off by the inverse of the distance transformer.
squared. In the Tesla method, the transmitting distance is The purpose of the secondary circuit was to transform
theoretically limited by the size and bandwidth of the the input voltage magnitudes to relatively large values
ground plane. If this ground plane is the earth, then thereby increasing the amplitude of the reactive currents
certain conditions may allow the distribution of energy to in the ground connection. In a conventional Tesla setup,
any point of the globe. there is no driver inductor. A relatively large distance
One can also use the magnetic resonance technique in between the primary and the resonator establishes a loose
conjunction with the Tesla method. In such a case, the magnetic coupling. This reduces the damping of the
ground plane transmits energy to a receiver at great resonator. The coil may then oscillate freely and develop
distances. The loads then couple inductively to the a strong resonant rise condition. However, loose
receiver within a range of 10 meters. This would allow coupling also restricts the amount of energy that can be
the operation of mobile devices that are not connected to placed into the secondary circuit – lowering the load
ground. rating of the system. It is this reason that the driver
inductor was used in the present setup. By adding a coil
III. EXPERIMENTAL SETUP that tightly couples to the primary, more energy could be
Figure 1 shows a schematic diagram of the placed into the secondary system without damping the
experimental setup. The transmitter connected to one resonator’s free oscillations.
side of a water channel via a 5 m wire. On the opposite The receiver comprised of an inductor having the same
side of the channel, the receiver was connected using a parameters as the transmitter’s resonator. A pickup coil
10.5 m wire. The channel itself was made of plastic 4.5 was positioned near the bottom of the receiver. A 25 W
m (15 ft) long, 0.15 m (0.5 ft) deep, and 0.15 m (0.5 ft) incandescent light bulb was then placed across the
wide. terminals of the pickup coil. Figure 2 shows the receiver
output voltage waveform. The waveform was a damped
oscillation that decayed in approximately 300 sec. This
waveform was then repeated every 5 msec as the
capacitor discharged.
It is interesting to note that such a system can work
with inductive/capacitive loads as well. Since this
method is designed to operate reactively, resistive loads
will pull energy from the system (a damping effect). An
inductive or capacitive load will either oscillate with the
system or reject the operating frequency and not oscillate
at all. Either way, no energy is consumed (ignoring
losses) unless a resistance is inserted.

Fig. 1. Experimental Setup.

The transmitter composed of a primary tank circuit

magnetically coupled to a secondary circuit. In the

The power efficiency of the experiment was estimated
based on the illumination of the light bulb and the input
energy discharged in the primary capacitor. The spark
gap fire point was set to 4800 V with a measured
repetition rate of 5 msec. Using a 20 nF capacitor
charged to 4800 V, the energy stored was 0.2304 J. At a
period of 5msec, the power delivered to the transmitter
was 0.2404/0.005 = 46.08 W. Based on the normal
illumination of the light bulb, the power consumed was
estimated to be the full 25 W. Therefore, the efficiency
could be estimated as 25/46.08 = 54.25 %. It is believed
that this can be further improved by better tuning of the
receiver. In this experiment, the receiver’s resonance
was slightly out of tune from the transmitter by a few
Fig. 2. Receiver damped voltage oscillation waveform. kilohertz. Also, lowering the operating frequency in
general could improve efficiency by reducing radiation
losses that are more prevalent at higher frequencies.
Figure 3 shows the receiver output voltage with V. CONCLUSION
respect to the resistance of the water channel. As the Ocean resistivity measurements were found in the
salinity of the water increased, the peak output voltage of literature to be near 0.2 Ω/m. With full transmission
the receiver also increased. The values shown in Figure 3
occurring at a resistance of 5 kΩ/m, the Tesla method
reflect the output voltage with the load attached.
appears to be a promising technique for off-shore energy
Removal of the load increased the peak voltage by
harvesting. When powering a 25 Watt incandescent light
several 100 volts.
bulb at a distance of 20 meters partly through water, the
test transmitter operated at 54 % efficiency. Future
research will try to determine maximum transmission
distances in real ocean conditions with improvements on
system efficiency.

We would like to thank all those who helped in the
construction and movement of the test system. Most
notably are the author’s wife, Jessica, brothers, Joseph
and Christopher, and cousin, Brett Kearns. We would
also like to thank Dr. Thomas Thundat at Oak Ridge
National Laboratory for his support and guidance during
the course of this study.
Fig. 3. Peak receiver output voltage with respect to water resistivity.

At a receiver peak output of 700 V, the bulb was
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