Energy Harvesting Surprises at IDTechEx Show! Berlin
May 15, 2017
The successful "IDTechEx Show!" in Berlin with nearly 3000 paying delegates, nine parallel conferences and a large exhibition had a huge amount for the energy harvesting enthusiast. There was the Energy Harvesting conference with remarkable advances in low power energy harvesting such as 2016 startup 8power showing why it won an award for more effective vibration harvesting. This topic was addressed by others as well, though making major business from vibration harvesting remains, as yet, elusive.
Focus on IOT
In the energy harvesting conference and energy harvesting masterclasses, analysts IDTechEx pointed out that up to ten times the money is made in high power energy harvesting. This has been mainly kilowatts or more but with huge needs at the one watt level nowadays with IoT coming center stage. An Internet of Things sensor node can be like a mobile phone with multiple sensors and transceivers demanding watt level charging, this being unsatisfactorily addressed as yet. As power demands of the individual parts go down, the numbers of functions and therefore new parts goes up so we still need those watts, or in less-demanding IoT, many milliwatts, so there is a refocussing of energy harvesting research to these higher powers. For example, OPVIUS GmbH and others specifically addressed OPV and other harvesting specifically for IoT.
Prosperity from high power
It is now recognised that the magnetostriction, electrodynamics, photovoltaics and so on that are researched are actually useful from microwatts to megawatts and a notable feature this year was addressing more of this breadth of need, examples being Lightricity and 3G Solar Photovoltaics presenting on PV specifically for indoors. See the IDTechEx Research report, Energy Harvesting: Off-Grid Microwatt to Megawatt 2017-2027.
Triboelectrics bursts onto the scene
The virtuosity was nowhere more evident than in the charismatic presentation of triboelectric energy harvesting by its inventor Professor Zhong Lin Wang of Georgia Institute of Technology. With lightning speed unprecedented in the history of energy harvesting - less than six years - he and his teams at Georgiatech and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have achieved over 60% efficiency, demonstrators of multi-mode harvesting with most other technologies, sensors that double as harvesters and a host of other proof-of-principle from microwatt sensor power to megawatt wave power. Indeed, commercialisation is expected, probably within one year, from one spinoff in the USA and two in China. There are challenges with reproduceability, theory, hermetic sealing, impedance matching and so on. On top of this, there was a presentation by EPFL Switzerland on large area triboelectrics that referred to imminent commercialisation. Read the IDTechEx Research report, Triboelectric Energy Harvesting (TENG) 2017-2027 which appraises the research and gives a likely sales forecast as the $30 billion dollar addressable market envisaged by Professor Wang starts to be addressed. This man is the rock star of energy harvesting.
Improved OPV market positioning
In contrast, some other technologies have seen only modest progress in parameter improvement over the last five to ten years, organic photovoltaics, the source of many a company failure, being stuck at well under 10% efficiency in industrial terms but better market targeting and engineering is now the source of some success. It turns out that smart posters and packaging were not the best way to start with these expensive inks but Building Integrated Photovoltaics BIPV including smart windows is successful. Initially this tends to be in glass with ten years life. Though Eric Calle of JC Decaux was positive about his burgeoning number of applications of conventional PV in outdoor advertising including flexible versions he was wholly negative about semi-transparent PV spoiling the advertisement when on top of it and PV window on a bus shelter where opaque is better. This contrasts with many buildings and even boats incorporating semi-transparent PV windows of OPV or silicon thin film. See the IDTechEx Research report, Electrically Active Smart Glass and Windows 2018-2028.
Exhibitor Kolon Industries pitched that attractively colored, flexible OPV with claimed 3-5 years life is great in its apparel and should be everywhere. This has 50% transparency and a bending radius of only 10mm, a low cost roll to roll printing process resulting in "Payback less than 0.2 years".
New materials and marketing
Graphene solar power is a welcome new arrival. Renting solar at high power lubricates the market and we also learnt that the road legal Sion solar car is intended to be on sale in 2019 with 30 km a day energy independence. You will plug it in for extra range. It won an award for the vision of affordable energy independence. Its modest investment from crowd funding is inadequate, we believe, and the pricing is very challenging. The winning single person and four person solar racers were on display, the TU Eindhoven Stella Lux being actually energy positive, as was the IFEVS solar + wind pasta van presented that can cook as well as supply all its own traction power. This is a very important new front for high power energy harvesting and it includes tethered drones rising to where the wind is four times as powerful and much more consistent. See the IDTechEx Research report, Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) 2017-2027. This electrodynamic harvesting garnering 10kW to 10MW has none of the multiple days of idleness of traditional wind turbines. Attend the IDTechEx Energy Independent Electric Vehicles event at the Technical University of Delft September 27-28 - the world's first on this new megatrend.
Just as OPV is being reinvented in commercial terms with little recent improvement in the basic materials and parameters, so it is with piezoelectrics. So far piezoelectrics has been a commercial failure beyond the gas lighter. The heavy metals are a worry but the real problem is cost and perceived reliability for what is needed at mW and above. Only tiny niches are being penetrated at low power. There is always someone with a new idea for 1 watt to tens of kilowatts of piezo power though and this event saw more initiatives. For example, Israeli piezo paving and Spanish piezo wind power failed but here we had ZHAW Switzerland envisaging piezo for IoT and Altro of the UK sharing a design study of thin piezo flooring.
Thermoelectrics was widely covered at the event with new materials, processes and applications. This has more success at high power than piezoelectrics, with up to kilowatts a reality and more to come including with wide area flexible versions it seems.
40% attendee discount for Energy Harvesting USA 2017
Join us for Energy Harvesting USA in Santa Clara, November 15-16 2017, part of the IDTechEx Show! The event brings together the complete value chain, from technology developers to integrators to end-users, providing insight on market trends, latest products and emerging technology toolkits. Register before July 14 for a 40% discount.