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The How and Why of Energy Harvesting for Low-Power Applications

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In this article, we’ll go over the basics of energy harvesting and discuss what forms it can take when scavenging energy from different sources.

What Is Energy Harvesting

Energy harvesting is the capture and conversion of small amounts of readily available energy in the environment into usable electrical energy. The electrical energy is conditioned for either direct use or accumulated and stored for later use. This provides an alternative source of power for applications in locations where there is no grid power and it is inefficient to install wind turbines or solar panels.

Other than outdoor solar, no small energy sources provide a great deal of energy. However, the energy captured is adequate for most wireless applications, remote sensing, body implants, RFID, and other applications at the lower segments of the power spectrum. And even if the harvested energy is low and incapable of powering a device, it can still be used to extend the life of a battery.

Energy harvesting is also known as energy scavenging or micro energy harvesting.

Why Harvest Energy

Most low-power electronics, such as remote sensors and embedded devices, are powered by batteries. However, even long-lasting batteries have a limited lifespan and must be replaced every few years. The replacements become costly when there are hundreds of sensors in remote locations. Energy harvesting technologies, on the other hand, provide unlimited operating life of low-power equipment  and eliminate the need to replace batteries where it is costly, impractical, or dangerous.

Most energy harvesting applications are designed to be self-sustaining, cost-effective, and to require little or no servicing for many years. In addition, the power is used closest to the source, hence eliminating transmission losses and long cables. If the energy is enough to power the device directly, the application or device powered by the energy can operate batteryless.

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