Energy Harvesting is a wide platform of enabling technologies applicable to those involved in consumer electronics, military, aerospace, healthcare, oil and gas, construction, transport and many more verticals. Also known as power harvesting or energy scavenging, it is the process by which ambient energy is captured, converted into electricity for small autonomous devices, such as satellites, laptops and nodes in sensor networks making them self-sufficient. Energy harvesting is a substantial business already and it will become a multibillion dollar business within ten years because, increasingly, it presses so many of the hot buttons – environmental, safe, secure, affordable, more convenient, brand enhancing and making new things possible. So far, the main commercial successes include such things as photovoltaics on space vehicles, road furniture and consumer goods, electrodynamics in bicycle dynamos and wristwatches and piezoelectrics in light switches and other building controls.
However, energy harvesting is now being made affordable and feasible for several new, large applications. They include:
• 90% of envisaged uses of Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) are impractical without energy harvesting. These mesh networks are rarely feasible because, in the biggest projects envisaged, such as those where nodes are embedded in buildings and machines for life or on billions of trees, the batteries would be inaccessible or prohibitively expensive to access.
• Mobile phones and laptop computers have batteries that frequently go down. Indeed, the power situation gets worse as more functionality is added, this inconvenience affects two billion people.
• Getting almost free power for electronics and lighting to nations where batteries are not affordable: indeed, they are rarely even obtainable.
• Bionics and sensors are needed in the human body that stay there for the life of the patient. These are the focus of a huge new research effort.
In all these applications there is now a delightful conjunction of progress by which new forms of electronics need far less electricity and new forms of energy harvesting are better able to provide it. They are beginning to meet in the middle.
Market forecasts 2009-2019
The IDTechEx forecast for global sales of energy harvesting devices is given below, summarising results from the IDTechEx report “Energy Harvesting & Storage” at www.IDTechEx.com/energy. In the projections, we put a value on the harvesting element, such as the photovoltaic unit, not the product using it, such as a satellite. We omit the value of any interfacing electronics or storage. We see only very slow adoption of energy harvesting in wireless sensor networks despite the particularly acute need for it. This is because there are other delays with WSN such as protocols that permit affordable, deployable systems with large numbers of nodes and because the EH challenge here is a severe one in terms of price, size and performance. In our projections, the consumer uses such as bicycle dynamos, watches, calculators, toys, wind-up lighting, laptops, mobile phones, and radios etc dominate the numbers throughout but the unit price of other applications is far higher. Indeed, although the price of specific technology erodes, our average unit value holds up because of change in mix. All the figures given below relate to the energy harvesting device such as a solar cell and not the associated energy storage, wiring or electronics.
The market forecasts concern autonomous devices and ones where the harvesting and the driven device are no more than one meter apart as with bicycle dynamos driving lighting. We omit microbial fuel cells, harvesting floor movement and, in vehicles, harnessing exhaust heat and shock absorbers or use of regenerative braking.
Wireless Sensor Networks
At the annual IDTechEx “Energy Harvesting & Storage” conference and exhibition, which will be held in Denver, CO, on November 3-4, the full range of applications and technologies will be covered. It will particularly focus on Wireless Sensor Networks, with the US Navy presenting on “Powering Wireless Sensors using a Kinetic Energy Harvester Designed for Extremely Low-Amplitude Vibration Environments.” The leader in global sensor systems, Emerson, will be presenting on their application of Wireless Sensor Networks and work with energy harvesters. Others such as Lockheed Martin’s subsidiary Savi Technology, Axcess International and Advanced Cerametrics will also cover developments with the topic.
Sportswear giant Adidas will present on “The State of Smart Fabrics Markets and Future Opportunities for Energy Harvesting” and in publishing, Structural Graphics will cover “Electronics in Esquire Magazine and What Comes Next”
Raghu Das, the event director, says, “For the first time we are putting together the full value chain at one event, focusing on end users by covering their needs or case studies, along with the full range of technologies. At the event you will hear from the world’s largest sensor and systems integration companies, end users from a wide range of verticals, and all the technologies, from the state-of-the art in energy harvesters, batteries, supercapacitors to new ultra-low power electronics and systems.”