The True Cost of Wireless Power

Originally posted by Hatem Zeine, Guest Contributor TechTarget IoT Agenda

Before looking at the cost of anything, it’s always a good idea to know exactly what you’re buying — especially when it comes to wireless power, because the term currently has several connotations and variations. The definition is evolving. 

Real wireless power is power delivered over air, without wires or charging pads, to a device or sensor automatically, without any user intervention. It can be managed and secured via the cloud, and does not require the device to be within sight of the transmitter. In fact, with real wireless power the device can be moving around, in a pocket or handbag, within a wireless-power-enabled space.

Wireless power is a transformational step for society; it will eventually replace the electric wall socket and enable a whole suite of products and services that we can’t even imagine yet.

When people consider the cost of investing in a new technology, like wireless power, they naturally first think about hard costs:

  • How much will it cost to license and build the wireless power technology or purchase the hardware?
  • How much will it cost to integrate the technology to existing devices, networks and systems?
  • What will the cost impact of wireless power be on our electricity bills?

Those are all good questions, but there are many more costs to consider as well. For example:

  • What is the cost of the current wiring infrastructure in a new build?
  • How much are we spending on batteries, battery oversight and recycling management? (Energy stored in batteries costs thousands of time what the same energy costs from the wall socket).
  • What is the cost of employee downtime when a device needs charging?
  • What is the value for a consumer to not taking the time to recharge, and therefore use a rechargeable household device?
  • What is the cost of lost opportunity for future inventions that could use continuous low power without charging or oversight? (This also involves battery-less devices that could essentially outlive us).

This is just the tip of the iceberg; we could also talk about cost, especially with regard to lost opportunity of not using wireless power, all day. The thing is, cost isn’t just about price. It’s about getting a return on your investment in wireless power down the road. It’s about looking at the bigger picture to see how savings in other areas — societal, ecological, lifestyle — quickly surpass the cost of wireless power itself.

Here is one simple scenario to explore how wireless power will impact our lives and pocketbooks.

A wired consumer home device vs. wireless power

Consider a device that today receives power by wire, like a motion sensor for an alarm system, and power it with wireless power. Let’s say the wired power is, for the sake of argument, 80% efficient, because you have to convert 120 volts to the appropriate power for the motion sensor. Using wireless power in this scenario would only be 10% efficient. Powering this motion sensor wirelessly will be more expensive than using wired power, because the wireless power is not as efficient as a wire.

If you stop your research there, you might draw the conclusion that wired power would cost your organization less than wireless power. But you’d be wrong.

When you compare the actual costs of power, wired power for a sensor might cost you 43 cents for the year and wireless power might cost you $2.00. But there are missing costs in this scenario — the cost of wire itself (~$10), the labor costs of the electrician ($400+) and things like the environmental costs of the transportation of the electrician (gas, emissions, road wear, traffic) and the mining of the copper for the wire. For a home with six motion sensors costing $12 per year in wireless power, it would take more than 34 years of utility bills to equal the cost of the electrical installation for wired sensors.

Expand on this example and consider how many outlets are installed in a home. If we did not need 80% or so of these outlets, because all of our small devices were instead using wireless power, the electrical installation costs alone for building a home could decrease by 7 to 8%.

Seven or eight percent may not sound like much, but for a $400,000 home, that’s $28,000 to $32,000 of savings. Even if you’re powering 50 small devices wirelessly and your electric bill increases $78.50 per year, you’d need to live in that house for 407 years for the wireless power energy bill to begin “costing” you.

Making housing more affordable, and home ownership possible for more citizens, is just one example of the value wireless power brings to society.

The cost of wireless power: Negative

Wireless power is already making us rethink our societal and business infrastructures. The true cost of wireless power is a negative cost. It will take away a lot of what we pay for now and provide an unimaginable amount of opportunities for lifestyle improvements.

We are currently limiting our imaginations on what is possible because it seems crazy to consider automatic power over the air everywhere and for anything. But we don’t have to.

The value of wireless power increases over time

Wireless power is one investment that doesn’t follow the law of diminishing returns. The more devices that have wireless power capabilities, the more value we have.

And when we have more devices that are able to continuously collect data, then we’ll have more information to analyze and improve systems. When we have more devices that can connect and communicate, then AI and machine learning will advance further to make us safer and more productive.

The value of wireless power does not slow down or end, and the costs are negative. What we should be asking ourselves is: how much will it cost you — and us as a society — to NOT use wireless power?

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