Smart Grid – Energy Harvesting

Within modern smart grid deployments, there are many locations where we will want to install a device but can not since we can not find a local source of electricity to power the device. Sometimes, we need power line sensors or remote terminal units in rural and remote sites where it is essential to capture measurement values and then transmit them upstream via communication networks to the substation or the network operation centre. At other times, we want to manage command and control devices so we can turn on and off devices or open and close switches. Therefore, the challenge is to find a suitable means to derive power sufficient for the functions needed at the remote site. The answer can lie with energy harvesting.

What is energy harvesting? Energy harvesting, or energy scavenging, is a process that captures small amounts of energy that would otherwise be lost as heat, light, sound, vibration or movement. It uses this captured energy to:

  • Improve efficiency – e.g. costs would be cut significantly if waste heat were harvested and used to help power a device, such as a microcomputer or microcontroller
  • Enable new technology – e.g. wireless sensor networks

Energy harvesting also has the potential to replace batteries for small, low power electronic devices. This has several benefits:

  • Maintenance free – no need to replace batteries
  • Environmentally friendly – disposal of batteries is tightly regulated because they contain chemicals and metals that are harmful to the environment and hazardous to human health
  • Opens up new applications – such as deploying energy harvesting sensors to monitor remote locations where traditional power sources are not available

Successfully developing energy harvesting technology requires expertise from all aspects of physics, including:

  • Energy capture (sporadic, irregular energy rather than sinusoidal)
  • Energy storage
  • Metrology
  • Material science
  • Systems engineering
  • Systems Integration (Read More)