The Cost of Powering the IoT

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America

A number of years ago when I was the general chair of an APEC conference, we predicted that in the not-too-distant future there would be more “things” on the internet than there were people. At the time, we didn’t have a clear idea of what this really meant – or how accurate this prediction would be. Today, Fortune Business Insights says that the market for the Internet of Things (IoT) products will be 1,463.19 billion USD by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 24.9% between now and then.

Their interconnectivity, via the cloud or cell phone, can make IoT devices truly useful. Products range from interactive camera doorbells and auto electronics that connect to your cell phone, to smart shipping containers that tell you to refill them, and much more. However, just because IoT capabilities are fascinating, there are many considerations for determining if the end-product is viable from a business standpoint.

Take how data is used in IoT devices: Is it processed at the edge at the collection point or at the server where the data is collected and stored? One of the cardinal laws that I see violated with emerging IoT technologies is not considering the value of the data versus the cost of the equipment and/or subscription. For a significant ROI and benefits statement to be articulated, the value of the data must be higher than the cost of obtaining and processing the data.  While it might seem very cool to keep track of the health of your car’s wiper blades with a phone app, the cost of the IoT system and associated fees to get the data might be more than what the data is worth. An IoT system with an alert to replace turbine blades on a jet aircraft engine might be a better use of the available technology from an ROI standpoint.

Also, all this interconnected technology requires highly efficient power from AC-DC power supplies, energy harvesting solutions, or DC-DC power modules. But, not all power sources are created equal. Power supplies for smart devices need to be efficient both low and full load. They must manage fast transient-dynamic load currents, be physically compact, and be dependable, affordable, and last a long time in potentially adverse electrical and environmental conditions. They also need to potentially power down with extremely low sleep power level modes and then be able to wait up to acquire/store and or transmit data potentially in burst modes.

For their part, IoT battery chemistries or supercapacitors must be long-life and capable of keeping up with the load demands. Moreover, the load electronics and even the software must be designed to be highly efficient. After all, the best power sources and power electronics are of no use if the load consumes unnecessary power at unnecessary times.

The vague notion of IoT from 10 or so years ago now offers real opportunities for power electronics manufacturers. If you can separate cost-effective applications from wishful thinking, it will be worth the wild ride.­