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Off Grid Energy Independence
Posted on June 23, 2011 by  & 

Keynote Presentations at IDTechEx Energy Harvesting and WSN Europe


Raghu Das opened the conference with an overview of the market for energy harvesters. Pointing out that recent developments have led to availability of many harvesting devices, he continued by trying to answer why, since the technology is ready, companies making harvesters are only making a few million dollars a year (and most much less than that). One of the main reasons according to Mr Das is the fact that device manufacturers are moving horizontally, trying to sell their components to as many end users as possible. Unfortunately end users prefer to buy a complete solution rather than components so, there's a big need for integrators who can offer that to the market. That makes sense as, the biggest successes in the energy harvesting field are the companies that have managed to move from horizontal availability of components to vertical integration (examples include EnOcean and the EnOcean Alliance and MicroStrain).
The importance of being able to bring the cost of energy harvesters down was also highlighted as well as the need for more case studies in order to prove the ROI.


Mr Antoine Ravise, testing engineer with the Geonaute Testing laboratory of Oxylane/Decathlon focused on showcasing how important energy harvesting developments are in order to be adopted by an end user such as Oxylane/Decathlon. Decathlon has a very wide range of sport products available on the market so, it's a company that is open to a variety of solutions and technologies that would be suitable for each type of product. Apparel and clothing would have different and lower power requirements than some of the bigger products such as treadmills and e-bikes but at the same time, a guarantee of robustness and a small or preferably no increase in price would be preferable.

Living planIT

Mr Thierry Martens focused his presentation on how to apply technology at the city level scale. 22% of the global population lives in 600 major sized cities, representing 50% of the global GDP and that number is growing (by 2050, 70% of global population is predicted to be living in cities). Improving quality of life is hence a very important challenge but also represents a great opportunity for sustainable technologies. Living PlanIT's aim is to create an ICT platform through aggregating existing and proven technologies that will be blended into real estate development. That would have as a prerequisite to embed technology (e.g. wireless sensors) into the construction process rather than rely on retrofitting which becomes more cost intensive.
In the first wave of the project, 2, 897,640 sensors will be embedded in Living PlanIT's "test-city" in Portugal. Requirements for these include standardisation, open API, horizontal integration but also, zero maintenance for embedded sensors that would have to meet lifetime expectations of over 30 years. Another important requirement is to be able to tackle issues relating to the inertia that characterized the construction industry and the very strict budgets and low-risk approaches that are typical in it.

United Technologies Research Centre

UTRC's interest in the energy harvesting and wireless sensor space is mainly targeted towards being able to enable interaction of systems such as security, fire suppression etc in the build environment but also, monitoring systems in harsh environments such as those experienced by helicopters (Sikorsky have worked with MicroStrain to monitor feasibility of helicopter health monitoring) or soldiers for instance. The company's activities include energy simulation, prototyping and risk reduction as well as component testing and platform/architecture definition for different types of applications. Due to the variety of potential applications in the range of sectors that UTRC is involved in, understanding application environment is crucial in order to design harvesters accordingly.

GE Energy Germany

Dr Thomas Kafka presented on GE's work on condition monitoring and asset management for machines using wireless sensors and energy harvesters. This work is undertaken from GE subsidiary Bently Nevada, a company that has been involved in machinery protection for over 50 years. Industry spend on machinery protection is already over $1.8 Billion dollars so the company aims to innovate in order to enhance customer performance. The target is for low cost solutions that provide customers with usable data that's not difficult to interpret. An example is wireless condition monitoring sensors in tank farm pumps, avoiding the traditional way of checking the condition of the pumps which was "walk-arounds" in 3-week intervals.
Barriers for wireless adoption according to Dr Kafka include reliability, standardisation and power consumption. Lithium Thionyl Chloride batteries have been used but due to the fact that they contain hazardous materials they cannot be shipped anywhere. Hence, vibration harvesters are a reasonable solution with long lifetimes, especially in vibration rich environments such as these that are encountered at Bently's customers' facilities.

Rolls Royce

Wireless sensors used at Rolls Royce would experience very extreme environments, monitoring gas turbines for example. Dr Werner Schiffers, involved with research in Roll Royce's strategic research centre in support of the rest of the company's business units, described the challenges in using wireless sensors in extreme situations and the very stringent requirements from technologies and materials utilised. Some passive sensors utilized in the hotter parts of a gas turbine would need to have temperature capabilities up to 700°C, a specification that affects the choice of materials utilized. Sensors identified are then tested in different environments, from furnaces to test engines before being utilized in real life applications.

Maxim Integrated Products

A company with a $2.4 Billion revenue, Maxim is involved in office energy management, asset tracking, smart meters and industrial automation, providing ICs for a very wide variety of applications, having over 5,000 different chips available. Jason Wortham presented the features of the energy harvesting MAX17710 chip, characterized by ultra-low quiescent current, accommodating multi-mode energy harvesting and able to boost convert all the way down to 1uW. He also highlighted the importance of minimizing consumption of power in order to minimize the number of sensor nodes and hence, the demands and requirements from energy harvesters.

Infinite Power Solutions (IPS)

The last keynote session was delivered by Mr Richard Percival of Infinite Power Solutions. The thinergy micro-energy cell developed by IPS is the most powerful battery of its size which is designed to reach lifetimes comparable to the lifetime of the applications it's incorporated in. With the use of solar cell technology, some demonstrator prototypes showcase, by operating an LED light sequence, how that rechargeable battery can power operations comparable in consumption to wireless sensor transmission. The solar cell is the only way to recharge the energy cell on this demonstrator so, whenever the cell sees some light, that's the only time the cell is recharging. Richard pointed out that solutions and adequate technology are all very practical and now in production and being deployed. Higher costs are a reality but careful design can lead to relatively quick return on investment that makes adoption of energy harvesting and related power management solutions realistic and cost-effective.
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