Energy harvesting inches forward

Energy harvesting isn’t going to have a huge market impact for some time, but it has the potential to open the door for a lot of wireless technologies. If it ever becomes cost effective to power remote sensors by gathering energy from vibration and temperature changes, a new generation of compact products will emerge.

Energy is slowly extending beyond exotic R&D programs by universities and startups. Royal Dutch Shell recently attached an energy harvesting device, thin film battery, temperature sensor and wireless transmitter to a hot water pipe. The harvesting device from Germany’s Micropelt generated enough energy to power the module for 10 years.

The US Forest Service, not exactly known for pushing the envelope with electronics, is powering five Javelin Rapid Deploy systems with energy harvesting equipment from Voltree Power. These climate sensors provide weather data that’s always helpful, but will be particularly beneficial for controlling fires.

Civil engineers like the idea of putting sensors on bridges, and industrial users want to put motion detectors around large facilities. That will be much simpler when (hopefully not if) energy harvesting provides its reliability and meets pricing levels that compete with simple AA and AAA batteries.

Cost effective products could also tap into the huge home market, making it even easier to install lights, temperature sensors and other products that sit in places where battery replacement is a pain and solar technology isn’t viable. Energy harvesting is definitely a technology worth monitoring.

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