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What is Energy Harvesting and the market opportunity?

Energy harvesting (EH) is 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 multi billion dollar business within ten years because, increasingly, it hits 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, indeed many forms of EH in building controls. Potentially buildings are a huge market, where over 1,000,000 control devices with no battery or wiring have already been sold.

The development of ultra low power electronics naturally converge with sustainable power-generation from ambient sources. Energy harvesting and storage technologies are combining combine to fertilise new applications in a wide range of industries that benefit from improved performance characteristics over long periods of time. Existing applications become more advanced and envisaged ones become possible.

The primary motivations for use of energy harvesting, by type of device, are given below.

Examples of the primary motivation to use energy harvesting by type of device

Device Primary reason for energy harvesting
Mobile phones, e-books, laptops Convenience – no drained batteries, never need to find a charging point or carry a heavy charger
Wireless Sensor Networks Mobile and inaccessible nodes become feasible in huge deployments such as monitoring trees in forest fires and sensors embedded in buildings and engines. Support costs greatly reduce.
Military equipment Operational availability – security of use.
Medical implants Safety. Operational availability – security of use. Intrusive procedures reduced.
Healthcare disposables Cost, convenience, reliability, better user interface eg spoken, prompting, scrolling instructions.
Consumer goods and packaging Cost, new merchandising features, better user interface eg moving color images become safe and viable


The energy harvesting market, estimated at US$700 Million in 2012 according to IDTechEx research published in the "Energy Harvesting and Storage for Electronic Devices 2012-2022" report, will be more than doubling in the next 5 years, eventually reaching US$1.5 Billion by 2017.

The doubling of the market for energy harvesting technologies will be led by the integration of harvesters and wireless sensors in many different verticals and all will be covered at this conference.

The market for energy harvesting in 2012 Source: IDTechEx report "Energy Harvesting and Storage for Electronic Devices 2012-2022" (www.IDTechEx.com/energy )

Energy Harvesting Technologies Converge

There are more than a dozen types of energy harvesters, the most popular being harvesting energy from light, motion, heat with other niche options having their place such as bio energy harvesting. Organizations are making these more efficient, while new types of energy storage, from solid state lithium batteries to supercapacitors are now available which overcome limitations of conventional rechargeable batteries and other storage means. In addition, those in silicon design have now developed ultra low power circuits which can be powered from small amounts of energy.

Enabling large new Markets such as The Internet of Things and Smart Cities

The Internet of Things expands the internet to objects, allowing other objects and people to monitor and automate functions based on pre-set needs. It has its beginnings in sensor networks, smart phones and location based services but the opportunities are smart cities, smart utility and home infrastructure and much more. The core of it are wired and wireless sensor networks, attached to infrastructure and objects. Energy harvesting is key here in enabling long life wireless sensors. However, despite the enormous opportunity progress must start in a focused way. Starting with more humble killer applications such as meter reading in buildings, WSN will grow rapidly from $0.58 billion in 2012 to $2.4 billion in 2022 according to IDTechEx research. These figures refer to WSN defined as wireless mesh networks, i.e. self-healing and self-organizing. This event dissects the enabling technologies - hardware and software - the market opportunity, case studies, strategies, players and global trends.

Impediments to roll out

Energy harvesting still has many challenges to overcome, such as low, variable and unpredictable levels of available power and providing the wrong forms (ac vs dc, high voltage, etc). Lifetime and frequency of maintenance of some forms of energy harvesting are currently too short for envisaged applications and some employ environmentally challenging materials. Some cost far too much as yet. Many developers are not looking into the patent situation. Cost of ownership of energy harvesting devices compares well to that of batteries when replacement and reliability are considered and available devices can produce sufficient power for many applications. However, there are few system designers integrators integrating wireless sensors and energy harvesting technology for example, and the performance claims of suppliers of energy harvesting are difficult to relate to specific applications. Most key decision makers such as architects remain ignorant about the options. The good news is that a huge global research effort is tackling the technical and cost challenges and education of key decision makers is proceeding. This event tackles the real end user pain points and drivers where energy harvesting and its application provides a solution. Attendees will hear from end users, and all the systems and components that are enabling a huge market.


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