Abstract

Sustainable operation of battery powered wireless embedded systems (such as sensor nodes) is a key challenge, and considerable research effort has been devoted to energy optimization of such systems. Environmental energy harvesting, in particular solar based, has emerged as a viable technique to supplement battery supplies. However, designing an efficient solar harvesting system to realize the potential benefits of energy harvesting requires an in-depth understanding of several factors. For example, solar energy supply is highly time varying and may not always be sufficient to power the embedded system. Harvesting components, such as solar panels, and energy storage elements, such as batteries or ultracapacitors, have different voltage-current characteristics, which must be matched to each other as well as the energy requirements of the system to maximize harvesting efficiency. Further, battery nonidealities, such as self-discharge and round trip efficiency, directly affect energy usage and storage decisions. The ability of the system to modulate its power consumption by selectively deactivating its sub-components also impacts the overall power management architecture. This paper describes key issues and tradeoffs which arise in the design of solar energy harvesting, wireless embedded systems and presents the design, implementation, and performance evaluation of Heliomote, our prototype that addresses several of these issues. Experimental results demonstrate that Heliomote, which behaves as a plug-in to the Berkeley/Crossbow motes and autonomously manages energy harvesting and storage, enables near-perpetual, harvesting aware operation of the sensor node.