With global warming accelerating at an alarming rate, the adoption of renewable energy technologies by the global community is going to be essential if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. And beyond our natural environment, unsustainable or inefficient energy practices also have direct adverse side effects on humanity.
Renewable sources are part of the solution, but not all of it. One often overlooked type of energy technology is that involved in the transmission of energy, and the latest innovation in this field is the patented system created by Dr Jacob Gitman and Dr Michael Bank to improve the efficiency of energy transfer, particularly over long distances.
Energy Technology and its First Two Transformations
‘Energy technology’ is an interdisciplinary engineering science which relates to any innovation in the safety, sustainability, or improved economy of energy—whether in terms of its extraction, transportation, storage, conversion, or use—but in essence, it is also the story of human history. Advances in energy technology have been driven by two main factors: technological advances and societal demand.
In primitive societies, energy was used to meet basic needs, and the source of it was almost exclusively wood. As societies evolved, energy demand increased due to industry and improved quality of life, and there was a shift from wood to coal, for use in cooking, heating, steam power, and forging metals—this was the first great transformation.
The second transformation took place with the birth of the modern age of oil and gas, as the two twin innovations of electricity and motorized transport hurtled human energy needs forward at an astonishing pace. However, this brought with it issues of air pollution, water pollution, waste disposal, CO2 concentration, thermal pollution, and climate change.
The Third Transformation
A new driver is now present: the need to slow down the rate of climate change. We therefore find ourselves in the third great transformation, with energy scientists around the world racing to find sustainable solutions to the environmental crisis. This has produced an explosion of new energy innovation, in the fields of energy generation (like photovoltaic cells and waste-to-energy techniques for example), energy use (with energy-efficient appliances), as well as in energy storage techniques (including flywheel, hydro pumps, or hydrogen).
However, for Bank and Gitman, it is in the field of energy transmission—specifically over long distances—that urgent progress is needed.
Single Wire Transmission: A Solution for Energy Transfer
The full effects of electromagnetic radiation are not yet known, but a range of psychological and physical symptoms have been reported anecdotally – and are quite frightening. In this context, and alarmed by the presence of high voltage and distribution power lines passing through areas of high population density, Gitman and Bank set about to solve the problem.
His patented solution, a single line electricity transmission system (SLE), is a revolutionary system. Whereas standard 3-phase electric current is carried through 4 wires (1 for each phase plus a ground wire), Gitman and Bank developed a system by which the three phases could be rotated or alternated in a single wire.
The upshot is that the single wire system significantly reduces any interference between the phases. This would result in significant reduction not only in terms of power transmission footprint, but also a reduction in ‘reactive losses’ during transition. Most obviously, the technology will be of interest to traditional power-producing and distributing companies, whilst alternative energy firms are bound to find it a boon to their service. Dr Gitman also believes there may be military applications for the technology.
The cost reduction implications of the invention are massive. For standard transmission, substations are required every 30–60km to compensate for reactive losses and improve the quality of the transmission. Each station is costly to install and require regular inspection and maintenance.
By simplifying electrical transmission, the single-wire transmission system does away with the need for these stations, thereby reducing capital expenditure and maintenance costs. Estimates suggest that CapEx would be around 20–30% less than with the traditional system, while the reduced footprint itself would slash land and permit costs to approximately a third of current rates.
Furthermore, and most excitingly, without the need of substations, transmission wires could theoretically be installed underground or underwater, covering hundreds (or even thousands) of miles.
Sustainable Energy Solutions: Multiple Positive Impacts
The most obvious positive impact of sustainable energy technology is its potential to greatly decrease global warming rates through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby halt devastating climate change. SLE’s most significant contributions may well be at the environmental level. With transit losses significantly reduced, less energy (whether from renewable or traditional sources) will be required, with the potential to drastically lower emissions.
However, there are also tangible benefits to human society from SLE, in terms of reduced consumer electricity bills, by making the transmission of energy more efficient. There are other associated environmental benefits, in terms of the protection of natural habitats. Furthermore, buried cables mean no electromagnetic effects on the environment, improving quality of life, and fulfilling Dr Jacob Gitman and Dr Michael Bank’s original hopes of banishing those high voltage cables from urban centers, forever.