What is Energy Harvesting

Conventional battery powered systems can be impractical, expensive, or have negative environmental impacts. Energy harvesting (EH) offers a potential solution to these problems. Through ambient sources such as solar, vibrational, thermal, and RF, self-sustaining IoT devices can be designed. These devices can be easily implemented in wearables, medical implants, and infrastructure. Companies such as TI and ADI have developed power management systems for EH and consumer products already exist. These products continue to increase in efficiency and practicality every year.  

Harvesting Method Power Density
Solar Cells 15mW/cm3
Piezoelectric 330uW/cm3
Vibration 116uW/cm3
Thermoelectric 40uW/cm3

Power Density of typical EH sources [1]

Numerous factors contribute to the development of EH technologies. Sophisticated converter topologies have allowed for low input voltages, such as those from a solar panel, to be boosted to desired levels with high efficiency and minimal circuit size. A model buck-boost circuit is shown in the figure below [2]. Harmonic motion from vibration energy sources can also be converted into usable DC efficiently through new rectifier topologies. One of the most difficult issues in energy harvesting engineering is accounting for the power fluctuations. For example, when the amount of sunlight on a solar panel changes, the load that gives the highest power transfer changes. To compensate for this, maximum power transfer (MPT) algorithms have been created to detect the optimal power point and adjust the load accordingly.

Buck Boost Converter – A Critical Component of Energy Harvesting Systems


[1] Sravanthi Chalasani and J. M. Conrad, “A survey of energy harvesting sources for embedded systems,” IEEE SoutheastCon 2008, Huntsville, AL, 2008, pp. 442-447.
[2] E. Lefeuvre, D. Audigier, C. Richard and D. Guyomar, “Buck-Boost Converter for Sensorless Power Optimization of Piezoelectric Energy Harvester,” in IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol. 22, no. 5, pp. 2018-2025, Sept. 2007.

Author: Yasir Ahmed (aka John)

More than 20 years of experience in various organizations in Pakistan, the USA, and Europe. Worked as a Research Assistant within the Mobile and Portable Radio Group (MPRG) of Virginia Tech and was one of the first researchers to propose Space Time Block Codes for eight transmit antennas. The collaboration with MPRG continued even after graduating with an MSEE degree and has resulted in 12 research publications and a book on Wireless Communications. Worked for Qualcomm USA as an Engineer with the key role of performance and conformance testing of UMTS modems. Qualcomm is the inventor of CDMA technology and owns patents critical to the 4G and 5G standards.
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