How Energy Harvesting Will Make Smart Cities Even More Efficient

BY NICK DUTTON (IOT4ALL)
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Smart cities are the future of urban development. But as more cities adopt smart devices leveraging IoT technology to become safer and more efficient, the increased need for batteries is resulting in escalating ecological damage. All of those depleted batteries end up contaminating landfills around the world with rare metals and dangerous toxins, such as lead and lithium.

 

Energy Harvesting and Smart Cities

Luckily, cities can now choose to use IoT devices that are designed to help extend the battery life of their connected devices, improving sustainability and reducing the costs of maintenance. By using the latest Bluetooth 5 standard, cities can substantially decrease the power consumption of their IoT devices, and, with the addition of controlled energy harvesting, can extend the battery life of IoT applications even further. Energy harvesting is the process of capturing and storing small amounts of energy from external sources of energy, such as RF, photovoltaic, thermal, and motion – all sources commonly available in cities. This harvested energy is then converted to a required operating voltage to power an application directly or as a supplement to battery power.

There are diverse city applications that are suitable for IoT, but traffic management is one that stands out since smart, real-time traffic management is something that could greatly improve both individual and city-wide efficiency.  Advanced traffic management technologies, such as adaptive traffic control and traffic analytics, can improve safety while significantly reducing traffic congestion levels. Sensors integrated into the pavement send real-time updates about pedestrian or automotive traffic flow to a central management control center. Such control centers analyze the data and automatically adjust traffic patterns, reducing the congestion in a matter of seconds.

While these traffic management applications have a lot of advantages, batteries need to be replaced and discarded regularly to keep these systems up and running – this can be a sobering thought when one recognizes that a traffic management system in any single city could have hundreds or even thousands of sensors. With energy harvesting technology, city planners can ensure that the batteries in sensors used for traffic management will not need to be replaced as often or potentially not until the sensors themselves reach end-of-life.

 

Other Applications

Cities can also benefit from energy harvesting in many other ways, including waste management, asset tracking, smart lighting, environmental monitoring, and smart parking. Sensors fixed to lampposts, for example, can collect a wide variety of data, including information about light levels, movement patterns, and noise detection. They can also ensure that light fixtures operate only during the times when they are needed, and sensors can even dim lights when people or cars are not present to save on electricity costs. Many smart cities also use sensors to monitor the weather and air quality conditions or use smart video surveillance systems to aid in crime reduction. Smart parking sensors are a popular way for cities to provide drivers with information about open parking spaces. Having city workers in the field changing batteries in all those sensors isn’t a good use of time or city funds, so it’s important to use smart sensors that have extended battery life with energy harvesting.

It is clear that the present trajectory of our global battery consumption is not sustainable, and that connected devices with ultra-low power consumption are simply a must for combatting the cost and environmental waste associated with battery-powered IoT applications. This new era of connected devices with longer battery life – and, in some cases, applications that don’t use any batteries – will significantly reduce the costs of battery maintenance and help reduce environmental waste to contribute to a more sustainable future.

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