Last month, IDTechEx held the Energy Harvesting & Storage USA event in Boston, MA. In summarizing the show's highlights, Raghu Das, IDTechEx CEO, categorized current "hot" areas for energy-harvesting opportunities. The need to power wireless sensors is one example, as there are now more than 50 million smart meters installed worldwide. Many of those wireless sensors will need energy-harvesting devices to enable expected 20-year lifetimes and supplement battery power.

For those making energy-harvesting devices, energy-storage devices, and low-power systems, however, wireless sensors offer just one opportunity. Many are also striving to incorporate energy harvesting into consumer electronics and vehicles. In fact, those markets are expected to create a $4.4-billion opportunity for energy harvesters 10 years from now.

For this year, IDTechEx research concludes that the amount of money spent on energy harvesters will be $0.7 billion. The majority of that value is in consumer-electronics applications, which have used energy-harvesting technology for some time. In 2011, 1.6 million energy harvesters will be used in wireless sensors with a market value of about $13.75 million.

Here is the full breakdown for the 2011 energy-harvesting market (totaling $0.7 billion):

  • Wristwatches, 32 million ($26 million)
  • Bicycle dynamos (i.e., generators), 6.3 million ($61 million)
  • Mobile phones, 0.1 million ($1 million)
  • Consumer electronics, 550 million ($385 million)
  • Wireless mesh networks, 0.1 million ($1 million)
  • Industrial (non-mesh), 1.5 million ($12.75 million)
  • Military and aerospace, 0.05 million ($175 million)

(Source: Energy Harvesting & Storage 2011-2021 by IDTechEx, www.IDTechEx.com/energy)

In terms of wireless power transmission (WPT), Das emphasizes that there has been a major effort to standardize these systems. Over the next decade, the most vibrant wireless-power-transmission markets will involve the contactless charging of portable and mobile equipmentin particular consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and wireless sensors. Eventually, wireless power transmission will provide contactless power for a high proportion of static consumer, industrial, and military electronics.

For now, however, it primarily involves the wireless charging of lithium-ion batteries in both portable consumer electronics and land, water, and airborne electric vehicles (particularly carsboth hybrid and pure electric vehicles). While most energy harvesters are rooted in solar and electromagnetic approaches, Das notes that there has been a surge in the development of thermoelectric energy harvesters. In addition, stretchable electronics are offering new, wearable product opportunities.