From a Wall Street Journal online article (Feb 13, 2020):
To meet the surge in demand projected by 2050, innovative engineers, utility operators and grid architects are planning for a future that blurs the distinctions between energy consumers and producers. Homeowners, businesses and other traditional utility customers are beginning to take on a new role as energy producers, through small-scale solar arrays, wind turbines and other new affordable technologies.
To coordinate so many different power sources and demands, the future power grid will depend on artificial intelligence, automated two-way communications and computer control systems to continuously collect and synthesize data from millions of smart sensors.
- Beaming Solar Power – Scientists and engineers are working on spacecraft to capture sunlight and transform it into electricity that is wirelessly beamed to Earth. A prototype from the California Institute of Technology transmits power in a steerable beam. Japan’s space agency JAXA demonstrated a unit that converted 1.8 kilowatts of electricity into microwaves and then beamed it about 100 yards. China is planning an orbital solar power station.
- Living Solar Cells – Researchers are exploring how to exploit the ability of many microorganisms to generate electric current through photosynthesis. Solar cells using microbes would be cleaner and cheaper than those based on conventional semiconductors. So far, the current is only about enough to drive a small fan. By using two kinds of microbes instead of one, scientists in China recently found a way to boost the electrical energy.
- The Power of Brine – Scientists in Norway, the Netherlands, Japan and the U.S. are generating electricity by harnessing the difference in salt concentration between seawater and freshwater. In one experiment, a semipermeable membrane allows seawater ions to pass into the fresh water. The movement of the ions generates an electric current.