What is the difference between energy harvesting and energy scavenging? Which is more appropriate when referring to an electronic device getting energy from the environment?


"harvesting" normally means you have put effort into growing something and you are collecting the results.

"scavenging" means you are just opportunistically collecting what is naturally there.

We used to use the term "energy scavenging" for driving equipement from external small sources of energy, like the 'on hook' voltage on a phone line or parasitic pickup from an AC mains cable.

  • Putted this way, indeed, "scavenging" sounds more appropriate; anyway, building the scavenger requires some effort: does it justify the term "harvesting"? – clabacchio Mar 16 '12 at 15:29
  • @clabacchio - in anthropology it's farmer/hunter-gatherer. Farmers plant crops and harvest them later. Hunter-gatherers scavenge for whatever food is naturally there. Anthropologists argue about which is more work. – mgb Mar 16 '12 at 16:01
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    @clabacchio The effort required to build the thing that does the "collecting" isn't the issue, it's whether the collector has planted and tended the crop. If I take some very expensive tool into the wilderness and use it to pick wild fruit off the trees or whatever, I'm still scavenging. If I use my bare hands to plant a tree in my back yard, water it with a left-over coffee can, etc, it's still harvesting even though my capital investment is virtually zero. – Jay Mar 16 '12 at 16:37
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    All that said, people sometimes use "harvesting" because it sounds more respectable. Like doctors talk about "harvesting organs" from dead people, even though the doctor didn't give birth to the person or contribute a penny to his support during his childhoold, I presume because "scavenging parts from dead bodies" sounds disreputable. – Jay Mar 16 '12 at 16:39

The terms scavenging energy and harvesting energy are used interchangeably when it comes to powering small electronics. For examples, see this article or this one

The noun form of the electronic device that takes the energy from the sun or other source, however, is called a scavenger.

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