Energy resource limitation is a severe problem in traditional wireless sensor networks (WSNs) because it restricts the lifetime of network. Recently, the emergence of energy harvesting techniques has brought with them the expectation to overcome this problem. In particular, it is possible for a sensor node with energy harvesting abilities to work perpetually in an Energy Neutral state. In this paper, a Multi-hop Energy Neutral Clustering (MENC) algorithm is proposed to construct the optimal multi-hop clustering architecture in energy harvesting WSNs, with the goal of achieving perpetual network operation. All cluster heads (CHs) in the network act as routers to transmit data to base station (BS) cooperatively by a multi-hop communication method. In addition, by analyzing the energy consumption of intra- and inter-cluster data transmission, we give the energy neutrality constraints. Under these constraints, every sensor node can work in an energy neutral state, which in turn provides perpetual network operation. Furthermore, the minimum network data transmission cycle is mathematically derived using convex optimization techniques while the network information gathering is maximal. Simulation results show that our protocol can achieve perpetual network operation, so that the consistent data delivery is guaranteed. In addition, substantial improvements on the performance of network throughput are also achieved as compared to the famous traditional clustering protocol LEACH and recent energy harvesting aware clustering protocols.
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