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March 09, 2020

Rick Kotar Highlights Modern Day Innovations In The Electrical Engineering Field

Electric power is the driving force in modern-day life. From large cities to small hamlets, electricity is too ubiquitous and indispensable to be taken for granted. This puts electrical engineers as innovators at the forefront as they try to make today’s energy safer and more environmentally friendly.

Electrical engineering technician, Rick Kotar is passionate about innovations in the electrical engineering field, both current and future ones. “One can’t simply imagine life,” he says, “as we know it today if it weren’t for the work of great innovators like Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.” As the demand for more efficient energy grows, the pressure increases on electrical engineers to satisfy the power-hungry machines and electrical appliances in every building. This has led to some great innovations that are either already powering whole cities or will do so in the near future.

Radio Waves Harvested

“One of the side effects,” explains Rick Kotar, “of the boom in the telecommunication field is that the air is literally buzzing with radio frequencies. This led some researchers in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering to try to recycle these radio waves and turn them into electricity.” Such clean energy would be used to power cellphones, smartwatches, and other electrical wearables.

The idea itself is not new. But if the previous attempts to harness the power of radio frequencies (RF) have been limited to those frequencies near the power source, this innovation makes it possible to harvest long-range waves miles away from their sources. These sources could be anything that emits RF including TV channels, antennas, cell phones, and other electronic devices. It’s an efficient and renewable source of energy that doesn’t cost much and has an almost zero footprint on the environment.

Electrical Power Converter

The idea behind the electrical power converter stems from the need to diversify the sources of energy that power homes, schools, and factories in every city. Rather than relying on the hydroelectric dam, wind turbine, or nuclear power plant, every homeowner can become both a consumer and a producer of renewable energy at the same time.

“Think of it this way,” Rick Kotar says, “if you have a solar panel on your rooftop, and you’re making more energy than your home needs, you can now shunt the excess electricity back into the power grid.” This innovation is the brainchild of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Arkansas. It not only makes the idea of installing a solar system with an electrical power converter a cost-effective option for the homeowner, it can be a lucrative business as consumers sell the excess electricity to the energy company. In addition, it reduces the demand for more electricity to feed the city as many consumers turn into energy producers themselves.

Smart Grids

As much as electricity is powering every home appliance and phone in people’s hands, the burden of streamlining this raw power lies squarely on the shoulders of the electrical grids. Traditional grids are a thing of the past. “One can’t imagine that,” says Rick Kotar, “a power grid that worked in almost total isolation in the past century would still function today. Modern life with all of its complexities demands a grid that is more advanced and cost-effective than, say, the one that powered Vancouver in the 1950s for example.”

Smart electrical grids have just that. They detect errors much faster, improve service delivery, and automate flow control. It’s not just that computers are doing most of the heavy lifting. Smart grids also connect distribution sites and power plants to achieve better load balancing at a fraction of the cost.

Optical Rectenna

To get energy directly from the sun has been the dream project of many environmentalists. It’s both clean and cheap even though the upfront cost of installing a solar system is still high. According to Rick Kotar, there’s a new technology that aims to turn the tables on solar power and take its place as the cheapest and most efficient source of energy.

“It’s called optical rectenna,” he elaborates, “and its goal is to turn electromagnetic energy into pure electricity. The rectenna itself is a combination of a rectifier and an antenna and uses cutting edge technology and advanced fabrication techniques.” A rectifier is a device that converts alternate current (AC) into direct current (DC).

The difference between solar cells and rectennas is that while the first feed on particles of light, the rectenna works on converting waves of light into flowing currents of electricity. This innovation is built on a nanoscale level where the antenna part is no more than one micron (one-millionth of a meter) in length.

Rick Kotar concludes that it is in part thanks to these innovations in electrical engineering that people have healthier lives, are more productive, and have better means of communication than ever before.

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