Measurement & Instrumentation

Energy Harvesting - Generating Electric Power from Sources Around Us

by Kasthuri Jagadeesan 26 Dec 2011
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Most of us are aware of the fact of generating electrical power at large scale from ambient energy sources such as sun, water, but the industry for micro energy harvesting is slowly gaining momentum for low power applications. Micro energy harvesting (EH) intended for such low power applications generates electrical energy from different sources around us such as solar, thermal, vibration and human movements. Different types of techniques are currently considered to convert the ambient energy into electrical energy and such techniques include: photovoltaics, thermoelectric, piezoelectric, electromagnetic, and electrostatic. The electrical energy generated from such sources can be used for powering electronic devices or can be employed in industrial condition monitoring and building automation applications. There are numerous applications that can benefit from EH technology.

Companies in the EH market are aiming to provide complete solutions. Some of the players in EH industry include: EnOcean GmbH; Perpetuum; Micropelt; AdaptivEnergy; Advanced Cerametrics Inc; Bionic Power; Ferro Solutions; Honeywell; Infinite Power Solutions; Mide Technology Corporation; MicroStrain; Nextreme Thermal Solutions; Powercast LLC; Thermo Life Energy Corporation; Smart Material Corporation; GreenPeak Technologies; The Facility; Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd; Nokia; and Innowattech. Various universities across the globe are also evaluating different techniques and sources for EH while improving the capabilities of the technology for real-world applications.

Is there a concrete market for energy harvesting? According to our research, the current global market revenue for energy harvesting devices (energy harvesting wireless devices) is estimated to be about $600 million. Currently electromagnetic and photovoltaics appear to be the key EH technologies, though organizations are offering products based on piezoelectric concept. However, the market is slowing picking up and there is a large scope for thermoelectric EH technology to grab a share of the current dominant technologies in the near-future depending on the volume production and sales aspects.

Wireless sensor networks are considered to be a key enabler for EH technology. Presently building automation and industrial applications are the main markets for EH devices. Military/defense related applications are receiving interest from the industrial community and it is worthwhile to consider EH for such applications. The medium-to-long term markets for EH are automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics and medical. Some of the organizations are exploring hybrid EH devices, though currently it is not a promising area.

With regard to regional development and adoption of EH technology, currently Europe appears to be the dominant region interms of commercialization followed by US. The momentum is also increasing in regions such as Japan and China. New applications are constantly being explored, however partnerships/alliances, or establishment of standards will propel the growth of energy harvesting technology.

With very few players in the EH market involved in commercialization and mass production, the growth in this market will largely depend on these aspects. However, there is a huge potential for this technology in the future.

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