Ali Hajimiri thinks there’s a better way to power the planet — one that’s not getting the attention it deserves. The Caltech professor of electrical engineering envisages thousands of solar panels floating in space, unobstructed by clouds and unhindered by day-night cycles, wirelessly transmitting massive amounts of energy to receivers on Earth.
This year, that vision moved closer to reality when Mr. Hajimiri, together with a team of Caltech researchers, proved that wireless power transfer in space was possible: Solar panels they had attached to a Caltech prototype in space successfully converted electricity into microwaves and beamed those microwaves to receivers about a foot away, lighting up two LEDs.
The prototype also beamed a tiny but detectable amount of energy to a receiver on top of their lab’s building in Pasadena, Calif. The demonstration marks a first step in the wireless transfer of usable power from space to Earth — a power source that Mr. Hajimiri believes will be safer than direct sun rays. “The beam intensity is to be kept less than solar intensity on earth,” he said.