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April 17th, 2019
Energy harvesting could make many large-scale IoT sensor network-type applications commercially viable for the first time
Energy harvesting has been used for decades in devices such as solar panels and bicycle dynamos. However, the development of a new generation of energy harvesting transducers and advancements in energy storage devices is giving rise to a wealth of new applications that previously were not possible. With the availability of ultra-low-power MCUs and new low-power wireless protocols, energy harvesting could play a vital role in enabling the IoT by eliminating the need for batteries in many IoT end devices.
“Clearly, the Holy Grail here is to develop energy harvesting systems that generate sufficient energy from ambient sources to power a range of small IoT devices,” said Gareth Owen, Associate Research Director at Counterpoint Research. “This would not only eliminate the need for batteries but also eliminate the need for periodic battery replacement, which could make previously unviable applications, perhaps involving hundreds or even thousands of IoT devices, commercially viable for the first time” he added.
At present, this is only possible for a limited number of applications. However, the gap between required power and generated power will close during the next few years as new transducer technologies are introduced. In the short term, the most dominant energy harvesting technologies are likely to be solar, thermal and piezoelectric, as these technologies generate the most power.
“Energy harvesting is a very promising market. However, in the short term it faces a number of challenges” said Liz Lee, Senior Analyst at Counterpoint Research. “Technical challenges include low transducer energy conversion efficiencies and low power storage capacities. Overcoming these challenges requires advances in transducer technologies as well as breakthroughs in materials technologies” she added. “Other key issues include lack of standards which hinders device interoperability, high entry costs as well as a general lack of awareness amongst potential end-users.”
However, in terms of potential growth markets, smart building automation is likely to be one of the most important early application areas of energy harvesting. Its adoption could accelerate the growth of the smart house market and home automation in general as the technology reduces the need for cabling and the maintenances costs associated with battery-operated devices. Energy harvesting technology is already used for lighting control, HVAC systems, and other elements of building technology.
Other attractive emerging markets for energy harvesting include smart city sensor networks, wearable sensors in healthcare. The monitoring of large civil infrastructures such as bridges, dams, and drilling platforms is another potentially large market. In addition to IoT segments, consumer applications such as mobile phones, smart home devices, automotive, hearables, and consumer electronics are also some of the key markets from an energy harvesting-related semiconductor content and sheer volume perspective.
An ecosystem of vendors is emerging based primarily around key semiconductor companies. Key players include Advanced Ceramics, Honeywell, Lord Microstrain, Laird Tech, Powercast, and ST Microelectronics (transducers), Cymbet Corp., Imprint Energy, Murata Manufacturing, and Infinite Power Solutions (storage devices) with established chip vendors such as Linear Technology, Maxim, TI, Silicon Labs, and Microchip providing power management ICs.
There are also a number of solution providers which provide complete energy harvesting systems for specific markets such as Siemens spin-off EnOcean, and Convergence Wireless, both of whom focus primarily on smart building automation.
The detailed research on this topic from our Emerging Technology Opportunities (ETO) research practice is available for our clients and can be downloaded here.
Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in Technology products in the TMT industry. It services major technology firms and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects and detailed analysis of the mobile and technology markets. Its key analysts are experts in the industry with an average tenure of 15 years in the high-tech industry.