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Energy harvesting returns to the forefront

Energy harvesting returns to the forefront

Jun 25, 2013

2008 through 2010 saw huge enthusiasm and interest in the development of small energy harvesters, writes Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx. The substantial research of previous years was turned into commercialisation efforts for several new forms of energy harvesting.

Added to the commonly used electromagnetic and photovoltaic devices were piezo-electric, thermo-electric and others.

In addition, much needed new forms of energy storage became available, in the form of solid state lithium thin film batteries. There is also growing work on super capacitors. Many in IC design were chasing the third need – ultra low power devices – driven in part by consumers desiring longer lasting consumer electronics in between charge times.

Target markets for these new devices were initially identified decades ago, with often disparate uses in consumer devices including solar powered calculators, movement powered watches and bicycles dynamos. Although interest in these areas continued, for many, wireless sensors became the primary target market for energy harvesting.

 

The interest dip

From 2010 through 2012 the sector began to lose steam. These were not new technologies being designed from scratch, with years of fundamental research being needed. Products existed but sales were not materialising in any significant way.

There are many reasons for this, which IDTechEx has explored, but mainly it is cost, slow adoption of wireless sensors (which exist in islands of application but not yet the large volumes envisaged), supply chain fragmentation, and the lack of complete solution providers.

 

What’s next?

From many inputs across the industry, IDTechEx now sees positive signs. These include recent fund raising or acquisitions (LORD MicroStrain and Nextreme Thermal Solutions are some examples). Broader and more exciting product portfolios are emerging from technology developers, such as Microgen, and system integrators, including ABB and Logimesh.

The big silicon companies are back with renewed focus. Things are different compared to a few years ago. There is less research on piezo-electrics, but more activity on thermo-electrics.

Perhaps most importantly, there is a pragmatism around emerging applications, which, at least for wireless sensors, will start off in small closed systems, providing rapid paybacks for adopters.

 

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