By Dr. Harry Zervos, IDTechEx
Based on the latest research by IDTechEx analysts, the market for energy harvesting is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2024, as analyzed in detail in the report, "Energy Harvesting and Storage for Electronic Devices 2014-2024, Forecasts, Technologies, Players." Find out more at 'Energy Harvesting & Storage' Nov 19-20, Santa Clara Convention Center - www.EnergyHarvestingUSA.com
The market segments that have adopted and will lead the proliferation of energy harvesting technologies are varied, with a wide range of requirements from the devices. Alongside long-standing applications such as wrist-watches, bicycle dynamos, calculators, electronic car key fobs or even piezo gas lighters, a strong interest remains in applications that have more complex powering needs and which will allow for a significant shift in usage paradigms.
Laptops, tablets, mobile phones and other portable electronic devices are suffering from short battery lives as the functionalities in them multiply and energy storage technologies cannot keep up with increased demand for power. Access to grid electricity for recharging is not always the easiest thing hence, harvesters can help to reduce grid dependency. This statement does not come without challenges as power output for most harvesting devices is still not optimal and needs to be improved in order for them to be considered as viable alternatives. Advances in technology will see increased utilization of harvesting technologies but that's probably not going to happen in the short term. Solar harvesting is at an advantage currently and will continue to keep its leading position as the technology of choice here, as efficiency of cells increase and low power electronics bridge the power requirement gap.
Also, let us not forget that the ever increasing interest in wearable technologies will also see the integration of energy harvesting technology, only, not necessarily in familiar form factors. From that point of view new manufacturing technologies and improvements in existing ones will lead to changes in the way we interact with and integrate electronics today.
Wireless sensors and wireless sensor networks
Battery-less wireless sensors and actuators have been the first success of energy harvesting and the current fastest growing market, spearheaded by EnOcean who have deployed their technology in applications for building automation, mainly in commercial buildings. The newest opportunities are seeing more of a focus on home automation (Hue by Philips is a great example that bridges home automation and consumer electronics interaction in an overarching 'connected, smarter home' concept) but, according to the CEO of the EnOcean Alliance, Graham Martin, condition monitoring in industrial machinery and engines is the next big thing, allowing for a shift towards predictive maintenance and all the benefits it carries. EnOcean will be presenting in Santa Clara - www.EnergyHarvestingUSA.com
Military and aerospace
Conventional electrodynamics have been the most commonplace harvesters in sensing and actuating applications so far. However, new technologies are now taking some market share enabling power in areas not possible before, and also, at much higher outputs than the milliwatts that tend to be the norm in sensing applications. This includes thermoelectrics - generating power from heat - where organizations such as the Department of Energy in the US are working with automotive OEMS to turn heat waste from engines and exhaust into power for the vehicle's electrical systems. NASA also use thermoelectrics to power Mars rovers where they work without light, unlike solar cells. Kilowatts can be generated by larger thermoelectric generators, especially as the temperature differences increases. When space is at a premium, piezoelectric energy harvesters are also of great interest due to their small form factor and high efficiency. In 2024, these three types of harvesters along with solar cells will have near similar market share for industrial sensing applications. It is important to note however that even by then solar will continue to dominate for consumer applications.
Technologies brought together in Santa Clara
This year, most of the harvesters used in the market segments are solar cells followed by electrodynamos, two relatively mature energy harvesting technologies. The Energy Harvesting and Storage conference in Santa Clara, Ca, on Nov. 19-20, is putting all the technologies in context of innovation in harvesting, but also in allied technologies such as low power electronics and altering electronic utilization paradigms such as the Internet of Things. The impact of the internet of things and the way energy harvesting will enhance it will be discussed by many of the presenters at the conference, including NASA, EnOcean, Texas Instruments, Samsung, General Motors and many more. Advances in manufacturing technologies and how they will help improve performance will also be discussed at the energy harvesting event, but also in the other 6 co-located events that will attract over 2,500 people over 2 days.