At a glance
As the switch is thrown on a hi-tech prototype assembled in an Auckland warehouse, it’s delivering on a vision outlined more than a century ago by one of the world’s great inventors.
Nikola Tesla first described how communities might be powered by wireless electricity, however it’s Kiwi company Emrod that’s on the brink of making it a commercial reality.
The startup has developed a way to transmit high-power electricity safely, and over long distances, without the use of wires. After successfully building a proof of concept to demonstrate its proprietary technology – which harnesses beam shaping, metamaterials and rectenna capabilities – it recently flicked the switch on a larger system, built in collaboration with major electricity distributor Powerco.
“When that [system] goes out into the field, it will be the first commercial long-range power transmission system in the world,” says Emrod Founder and CEO Greg Kushnir, who reports this is likely to happen later this year.
“It will also progress another aspect of our mission, which is to show that NZ is at the leading edge globally of sustainable technologies.”
A serial entrepreneur with several ventures behind him, Kushnir says Emrod was born out of a desire to commercialise a high-impact technology that would have a positive global impact.
It was while reading about Tonga, specifically how the island nation spends 20% of its GDP on diesel to be able to fuel generators for electricity generation, that he further pondered the potential for disruption in the field of electricity transmission.
“Not just Tonga, but many island nations and remote communities have ample sustainable resources, such as wind and sun, to generate electricity, however it’s the infrastructure required to transmit that electricity that’s expensive. But wireless technology enables people to connect to those energy sources in an easy and cheap way.”
Eliminating the need to use wires to transmit electricity opens up a vast number of potential applications, says Kushnir. This includes everything from ensuring continuity of supply during outages of traditional transmission networks, to powering electric shipping, to keeping drones in the air indefinitely.
Kushnir says Callaghan Innovation’s support has been crucial to bringing such an audacious idea to life.
He approached the agency about his concept, which included meeting with its Distinguished Scientist Dr Ray Simpkin – an innovator and researcher who specialises in applied electromagnetics. Subsequently, in early 2019, Callaghan Innovation carried out a feasibility study for Emrod to determine if there was a business opportunity to pursue, and how it might be done.
“No one else in NZ could have done that for us, and there are very few organisations in the world that would have been willing to do that for a startup,” says Kushnir. “Having the stamp of approval from Callaghan Innovation also opened many people’s eyes to the potential of the idea.”
Given the unique nature of its concept, Emrod needed to build a demonstration system to prove to potential investors and customers that it could work in practice, which it did with support from a Project Grant later in 2019.
That caught the eye of electricity distributor Powerco, which provided funding (alongside Callaghan Innovation in the form of a further Project Grant) for Emrod to produce a bigger, prototype system, with the aim of deploying it in the field.
The deployment aims to ‘unlock the last mile’ for Powerco: connect small, remote locations to the grid, which can be logistically tricky and expensive to do via power lines. In the coming months, for a separate project, Emrod also plans to deploy the system in NZ to transmit electricity from a new solar farm. The next step will be demonstrating other potential uses overseas.
Callaghan Innovation Technical Support Manager Phil Stucki has been working with Emrod from its earliest stages, and says Kushnir is a serial entrepreneur who has a solid understanding of R&D, commercialisation and investment.
“But he’s also very open to new ideas and points of view, which has meant he’s been able to tap into a wide range of Callaghan Innovation support and expertise to progress his idea.”
Emrod’s connections to Callaghan Innovation have increased over time. After a secondment at the business, for example, Simpkin has since transitioned to become its Chief Science Officer. Three of Emrod’s other employees have joined the business via recommendations from, or connections to, Callaghan Innovation.
“Callaghan Innovation has been critical to Emrod,” says Kushnir. “We’re the sort of business that doesn’t really fit the mould for venture capitalists, which is traditionally how technology gets commercialised. Without Callaghan Innovation’s support, it wouldn't have been feasible to advance this startup in NZ.”
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Updated: 30 September 2021