The Impact Of Energy Harvesting On Smart Building Management

Battery-free solutions such as energy harvesting can encourage a new era of connectivity in a more sustainable way.

By Srinivas Pattamatta

Billions of IoT devices are now part of our daily lives. Whether inside the home, enabling smarter healthcare practices, or helping to create a more efficient supply chain, IoT is here to stay and expected to continue its growth. One key area for IoT devices and applications is infrastructure – making our buildings smarter, more efficient, and user friendly. Door locks, meters, and lights are a few of the devices feeding this transformation, along with a host of existing IoT applications that can turn any building into a smart building.

While these smart applications are allowing buildings to operate more efficiently, one problem still remains: the use of disposable batteries. With tens of thousands of various edge connected and battery-powered devices in a large building or warehouse, powering all these devices is costly and can also be detrimental to our environment as harmful materials may leech into our soil when batteries are improperly thrown out. Disposable batteries are also not long-term power solutions, meaning when your device is out of power it’s completely useless and dead. In many instances, this can lead to unwanted and potentially fatal scenarios. For example, if the carbon monoxide sensor stops working and the building manager is unable to detect a leak or alert consumers of danger. Luckily, new technologies have been created to extend the life of battery-powered devices, and even enable some devices to be powered with no batteries at all, averting these unsolicited scenarios.

Powering the IoT Battery-Free

energy harvestingThe key to this extended battery-life is through a process called energy-harvesting, which harnesses energy from radio frequency (RF), thermal, kinetic, and photovoltaic cells to power devices. But in order for the energy harvesting process to work – and increase devices’ energy-efficiency – connected devices must be able to operate on ultra-low power. Lowest Power Radio and On-demand Wake Up are two types of connectivity technologies that dramatically lower power consumption and can also allow battery-powered devices to require battery replacement as seldom as upwards of 10 years – and in some cases last forever.

This battery-extending technology is especially helpful for sensors that need to be placed in hard-to-reach spots, such as those monitoring for temperature or motion within a building or room. Once a sensor is placed, facility managers will not need to worry about retrieving the device repeatedly to recharge it or replace the batteries. The sensor will work for the lifetime of the device on the batteries.

Energy Harvesting In Facilities

Some smart building applications ideal for energy harvesting are those that balance sustainability and lowering energy costs. IoT platforms can be used to monitor the energy consumption patterns within a building and analyze the data to produce targeted recommendations for reducing energy use. Sensors can monitor a facility around the clock and provide insight into how and when the facility uses energy. This smart building data can then be used to increase efficiency and strategically reduce overall consumption for optimal building operations, while also driving down costs.

Another application ideal for energy harvesting are sensors that can be utilized to monitor the well-being of a building or facility with increased visibility. For example, water leak detectors help notify facility managers about early-stage pipe failures and will activate valve shut-down to prevent severe water damage. Additionally, temperature and vibration metrics of critical assets – such as an elevator – can reveal potential or ongoing issues and flag the need for inspection. When paired with system analytics, sensor inputs on inclination, crack formation, and humidity exposure can help monitor the structural integrity of a building.

energy harvestingDoor card readers and electronic badges (eBadges) are also used often in smart buildings, along with locationing beacons which can help people navigate indoors. Since a smartphone GPS is not very helpful for navigating around a large facility, some buildings take advantage of indoor locationing beacons based on Bluetooth 5.0 to send information to the users’ smartphone so they know exactly where they are at every moment. Another popular use case is automated lighting systems that use sensors to detect movement and turn the lights on or off, saving electricity when a room is not occupied.

Finally, recently we’ve witnessed the physical workspace and hybrid work-from-home changing the usage of office spaces. By having sensors that monitor the occupancy and usage of common employee facilities, office/building managers can configure the spaces for better utilization. Low power Bluetooth sensors that monitor occupancy help collect that data for such applications.

As office and commercial spaces adopt IoT technologies, new opportunities for operating, monitoring, and servicing facilities are becoming increasingly commonplace. With battery-free solutions, such as energy harvesting, these opportunities can be taken to the next level, while encouraging a new era of connectivity in a more sustainable way.

energy harvestingSrinivas Pattamatta is VP, Marketing and Business Development, at Atmosic Technologies. Srinivas brings a combination of business, product, and engineering to Atmosic. He has over 20 years of experience in wireless and other communication technologies. He has held a variety of business development and marketing roles in Mobile, Computing, Consumer Electronics, IoT, and Networking segments with Synaptics, Qualcomm, Atheros and NXP. He is an entrepreneur, having owned and operated Skyscape Aviation. Srinivas earned a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Oregon State University and an MBA from Santa Clara University.