Is Energy Harvesting at the Tipping Point?

Dec. 10, 2013
The developing energy harvesting market may be at a critical juncture in its progress toward becoming more ubiquitous.

If you haven’t previously heard of energy harvesting technology, here’s what is: A process by which ambient energy is captured and converted into electricity to power small autonomous devices to make them self-sufficient. Automation World has been covering the topic of energy harvesting for several years. At the bottom of this article are links to some of the most recent articles we’ve featured on the topic.

A new report from IDTechEx—"Energy Harvesting and Storage for Electronic Devices 2014-2024: Forecasts, Technologies, Players"—notes that although energy harvesting applications extend from industrial and building automation all the way to the smart grid, the majority of the value being created in the energy harvesting market this year is in consumer electronic applications. However, the report forecasts that the total market for energy harvesting devices will rise to $2.6 billion in 2024, from $150 million 2014, because the technology has reached a tipping point.

IDTechEx believes the energy harvesting tipping point has been reached because “necessary lower power electronics and more efficient energy gathering and storage are now sufficiently affordable, reliable and longer lived for a huge number of applications to be practicable.”

The current market for energy harvesting technology is dominated by use in solar cells and electrodynamos, which the report notes are “two relatively mature energy harvesting technologies.” However, newer technologies are beginning to take market share and bring energy harvesting power into areas in which it was previously not possible to do so. One example of this is thermoelectrics, which involves generating power from heat. According to IDTechEx, organizations such as the Department of Energy are working with BMW and GM to turn heat waste from engines and exhaust into power for vehicle electrical systems. In addition, NASA uses thermoelectrics to power Mars rovers where they work in conditions without light, unlike solar cells (see link to related story at the bottom of this article). Piezoelectric energy harvesters are also of great interest, notes the IDTechEx report, due to their small form factor and high efficiency.

IDTechEx predicts that, by 2022, four energy harvester types— photovoltaics, thermovoltaics, piezoelectrics and electrodynamics—will have near similar market share for industrial sensing applications.

Below are links to some recent Automation World articles featuring energy harvesting:
How Do You Power a Wireless Factory?
Why Wireless Sensors are Everywhere (Almost)
Energy Harvesting Lessons from the Mars Curiosity Rover
Getting Started with Vibration Energy Harvesting
Video featuring ABB’s Energy Harvester wireless, autonomous temperature transmitter
An energy harvesting switch from Festo

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