Critical reflection on the topic of Energy Harvest for wireless Communication systems

 In following paragraphs, I will provide my critical reflection on the topic of ‘Energy Harvest’ after reading the following white papers.

Shaikh, Faisal Karim, and Sherali Zeadally. “Energy harvesting in wireless sensor networks: A comprehensive review.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 55 (2016): 1041-1054.

Ulukus, Sennur, et al. “Energy harvesting wireless communications: A review of recent advances.” IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications 33.3 (2015): 360-381

Both authors have addressed the different techniques of energy harvesting, hardware design requirements as well the efficiency and advances in technology required to be able to make this a viable option for wireless sensor networks (WSN).

While the concept of energy harvesting is an excellent idea and a possible solution to many of the issue that plague remote wireless senor networks, both authors admit it is still in its infancy, due to technology constraints and manufacturing cost.

The issue I see still being a problem in the future is the dependency on a battery backup in the event that its main energy source is not available as well as the requirement to perform on-going maintenance work on the energy harvesting equipment.

I have experience when it comes to the deployment, installation and maintenance of wireless sensor networks, coming from the mining section, we use WSN to relay information form Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) that are connected to remote monitoring equipment or machines. While the idea of being able to deploy these in a small form factor devices in a set and forget mind-set dependant on the life span of the equipment is great, what I have found given my experience is that the main issue is actually the energy harvesting device whether it be solar panels or wind turbine that supplies the power as well as tickle charges the battery in the event that the sun or wind is not available, requires more on-going maintenance then the actually battery or WSN.

The ongoing maintenance involves cleaning due to excess dust build and animal excrement on the solar panels, the wind turbines require lubrication and at times both energy harvesting devices required replacement due to the extremes of weather or damage cause by animals or birds.

In some case the actually WSN and external battery out lives the energy harvesting equipment, the main reason for this is because it is shelter from the extremes of weather and animals.

While I hold a common interest in being able to power WSN by means as described in the research papers as well as reduce maintenance requirements where possible, I believe we are some time off before this is a reliable and cost-effective solution for most consumers to purchase and even then, given the certain environments that WSN are could be reduced in, it will still require on-going servicing of the energy harvesting equipment to ensure a long-life span.

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