Combined light communication and energy harvesting from solar panel receivers

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Light-based communication using solar panels
Light-based communication using solar panels

University: University of Edinburgh

Sector(s): Information & Communications Technologies, Electronics, Sensors & Photonics, Energy & Renewables, Engineering & Manufacturing

About Opportunity:

A technology allowing solar panels to harvest light energy while also acting as the receiver elements of light-based communication links or networks. These self-powered nodes allow networks of communicating devices to be assembled within the Internet of Things, Sensor Network applications, linking to low power mobile user terminals, and in point-to-point Free Space Optics backhaul.

The Challenge

Mobile data is predicted to increase tenfold 2013-2019 and internet connected devices are expected to grow at 18% CAGR to 28 billion units by 2020. Machine to machine data links are multiplying to create an ‘industrial internet’ for airlines, rail, energy companies and hospitals. Such explosive growth puts extreme burden on carbon reduction targets. Self-powered communication nodes will remove a major barrier to data communication growth. In conventional optical wireless communications the steady component of the received optical signal is usually discarded, but can instead be used to directly power the receiving terminal.


The invented solution is a set of novel methods of integrating combined power/data receiver solar panels into electronic devices. The design configurations that have been developed, allow a solar cell to be tightly integrated into communication nodes, to then receive relatively high bandwidth data while also providing electrical power for the nodes’ operation. Key design elements include using solar panels together with efficient data communication algorithms; fabricating devices into self-powered tags and beacons; and integration into user terminal and mobile terminal display panels.

Exemplification Data

Laboratory tests have shown that 1MB/s can be transmitted at a bit error rate of less than 0.002 while providing power of 0.35 mW/cm2, and rates of 7 MB/s also obtained using OFDM.

Development Status: Prototype development

Key Benefits:

  • Ambient powered wireless terminals
  • Large area receivers integrated into small devices
  • Enables very low cost device communication
  • High bandwidth communications


  • Self-powered communication terminals
  • Power efficient high bandwidth transceivers
  • Low cost beacons
  • Backhaul physical layers
  • Large surface area photo-detectors for user devices
  • ID tags in hazardous environments
  • Rural broadband provision
  • Sensor network communication links
  • Solar farm configuration
  • New low power physical layer for the periphery of the Internet of Things

IP Status:

PCT patent application (PCT/GB2014/053579) filed 2nd December 2014.

Publication: Wang Z, Tsonev D, Videv S, Haas H. On the Design of a Solar-panel Receiver for Optical Wireless Communications with Simultaneous Energy Harvesting. IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications; February 2015

The University of Edinburgh is seeking commercial partners for research collaborations leading to field specific technology licences.


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