energy harvesting solar

Managing the energy needs of your smart devices is the key to a successful IoT implementation

Connected devices will provide you with a lot of data on your company’s day-to-day operations and environment. Under one condition: they must have access to a reliable and affordable energy source, even when there is no nearby infrastructure to provide it.

Finding the right solution is not as simple as it looks. It needs to be made part of the design of your IoT application, because the need for smart sensors rarely occurs where power outlets are found. In fact, in most cases, those sensors will need to be installed in places where there is absolutely no infrastructure whatsoever.

This means no Internet access to send the data to the platform that analyses them. Most of the time, there is also the need to find a suitable and self-reliant power source, because the power grid is not accessible. A battery-powered system seems like the right approach for such cases. But batteries deplete themselves over time, and they need to be replaced, if not recharged.

In an IoT application requiring dozens of connected sensors, making sure that each and every one of them has enough power to gather and share data is a difficult task. That is why the best solution in many cases is to rely on an energy source that is off-grid, but easy to find almost anywhere, whether outside or inside: solar power.

A luminous energy source

In a factory or a manufacturing plant, harvesting energy from the ambient light can have an interesting side benefit: your accountant will be pleased to learn that this process can partly or sometimes totally run off the lights that are already on, and paid for by the company. When the lights are turned off, or after sundown, batteries where that energy has been stored all day will take over and will keep the devices powered on and functional.

This hybrid battery-plus-solar panel model has an important economic value, since you can actually use smaller and more affordable components on both sides: the battery is regularly recharged, so it does not need to be too large. On the other hand, the panel does not need to power the device directly at all times.

Naturally, these systems can be tailor made to fit a specific corporate IoT application such as the one your company needs. Outside, these systems must also account for the weather where they will operate. In the northern US and in Canada, the winter season offers a reduced exposition to the sun rays. Snowfalls can also obstruct the solar sensors. 

You must make sure you find a solution that can work even under these specific conditions.

Managing energy harvesting… and consumption

A wirelessly powered array of corporate IoT devices is made of a few different parts: power management is one of them, as are wireless communications and data processing. You can achieve a lower power usage by optimizing all these parts. Technological choices are important: which wireless transmission protocol will better fit your needs? What is the best transmission interval and bandwidth to make sure you get the data you require when necessary, without unnecessarily wasting energy? Do you need a lot of data to be sent rapidly and steadily to your servers, or can you simply rely on a scheduled and regular transmission of the critical part of all that data?

Answers to these questions will affect how your sensors use the energy they require to operate. Even storing the data between transmissions can have an effect on their battery life.

Once these parameters are determined, finding the proper combination for your specific needs will be much easier. Specialists at Motsai can help you find or design such a solution. This cannot be taken lightly: once installed, you want to make sure your connected devices provide a reliable flow of information without requiring too much maintenance.

Using the right energy source for your corporate IoT application will have a major impact on its long-term success.

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