Ever since the first watermills and windmills were used to generate electricity, energy harvesting has been an attractive source of energy with great potential. In recent years, energy harvesting technology has become more sophisticated and efficient, and energy storage technologies, such as supercapacitors and thin-film batteries (TFBs), have become more cost-effective.
Among the final pieces in the energy harvesting solution jigsaw puzzle are integrated circuits that can perform useful functions, such as algorithmic control and wireless communications using tiny amounts of energy. We have now reached a technological tipping point that will result in the evolution of energy-harvesting-based systems from today’s niche products, such as calculators and wrist watches, to their widespread use in building automation, security systems, embedded controls, agriculture, infrastructure monitoring, asset management and medical monitoring systems.
The wireless sensor node is one of the most important product types being forecast for growth as an energy-harvesting solution. Wireless sensors are ubiquitous and very attractive products to implement using harvested energy. Running mains power to wireless sensors is often neither possible nor convenient, and, since wireless sensor nodes are commonly placed in hard-to-reach locations, changing batteries regularly can be costly and inconvenient. It is now possible to implement wireless sensors using harvested energy because of the off-the-shelf availability of ultra-low-power, single-chip wireless microcontrollers (MCUs) capable of running control algorithms and transmitting data using sophisticated power management techniques.
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