Internet of Things and energy harvesting

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is a broad term referring to applications as diverse as Internet-connected vehicles, consumer electronics and smart phones. However, the edge of the Internet of Things network will consist of simpler sensors and wireless devices that provide, among other things, the identification of objects, sensing, control and automation, according to Raghu Das, CEO, IDTechEx. The simplest, passive RF devices, with relatively short range, will potentially be the highest volume of all devices and come in at the lowest price points. Adding power to RF devices with relatively short range enables more functionality such as sensing, mesh networking and automated control, Das said.

However, the return on investment of many wireless sensors in different applications is dependent in part on the lifetime of the device, which is most usually a function of the battery lifetime. A device lasting 10 years versus two has a dramatic change on the ROI calculation, particularly if these sensors are embedded in devices adding significant labour cost for battery replenishment, according to Das.

Energy harvesters can help in this regard, although there are several challenges moving forward.

For example, the cost of a primary battery is less than that of an energy harvester and associated interfacing electronics. Over the life of the energy harvested powered device the energy harvester version may be cheaper, but buyers may be incentivized by low upfront cost without taking into account the long term costs. Further, some batteries last for longer periods of time, particularly as the energy requirements of circuitry falls, but usually command a premium price.

The widespread publicity of the Internet of Things will help to gain recognition for wireless sensors and how they can add value. Wireless sensors, forming part of the fabric of the Internet of Things, will increasingly use energy harvesting as a power source, according to Das.

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