>> The market for wireless electricity has inventors and investors upbeat, even in a down market. "This is going to be so big I don't think I can even get my arms around the market impact," says Steve Anderson, the senior vice president for Texas Instruments' power-management group. Anderson's crew is developing the integrated circuits that manage the power flow in wireless inductive power pads. "This is a huge step," he says.
With a huge upside. According to a 2006 Department of Energy study, more than 700 million power-supply devices (chargers, charging stands, transformers, and the like) will be sold in the U.S. in 2010, a $6 billion market. Worldwide, the market runs to about $30 billion. "As far as we can tell," says Andrew Fanara, the team leader for the EPA's Energy Star Products Group, "there are at least two external power adapters in the world for every man, woman, and child on the planet — about 12-to-15 billion of them."
But wireless technology is not only neater (say good-bye to the power-strip Medusa under your office desk), it's cleaner. The EPA says Americans purchase a total of 3 billion disposable dry-cell batteries every year (part of a worldwide market of about 15 billion) and then throw 2.8 billion of them into landfills. Wireless systems are designed for rechargeable batteries that can be reused hundreds of times before they become trash.
And according to WiPower, inductive charging systems work with about 80% to 90% efficiency — roughly the same as plugging directly into a wall socket. That blows away the industry average for wired chargers, around 40%. So wireless juice is not only less messy, it's less hungry, too.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.