Over the next four years, our industry will continue to face significant energy management challenges, such as the burden of delivering and storing more power. The world’s population consumes about 17 terawatts of power from various energy sources, with the highest consumption happening in developed countries like the U.S.(1) The problem is finding ways to deliver this massive amount of power more efficiently. The solution: breakthroughs in power electronics. We are working hand in hand with our technology partners to develop energy innovations designed to solve some of these complex challenges through advancements in semiconductor technology and power topologies.
High-voltage analog and mixed-signal semiconductor solutions will deliver greater power efficiencies in the coming years. By uniquely combining high-voltage manufacturing processes with power management integrated circuits that can support higher input voltages, more efficient power solutions can enable a variety of markets. (Read more about high-voltage innovation in our new white paper.) Let’s look at three trends where power management innovation will make the greatest impact in the next four years. Megatrend No. 1: Power density Power density is the rate of energy flow per unit volume, area or mass. Design engineers strive to deliver more power, more efficiently and in smaller footprints. They require the best possible power density in products like server power supplies and batteries for electric vehicles. So it is no surprise that each year, we see many new techniques and approaches to improving power density. At TI, we continue to look for a more holistic approach to the power and energy problem. By focusing on the total power chain and not just one piece of it, we are able to suggest innovative approaches to traditional problems. For example, how do I take off-line energy and convert it so it’s appropriate for a server farm? Our customers are interested in the total energy costs (power and cooling) and how quickly they can get a return on their investments. They are very willing to evaluate and try different technologies and approaches to find new ways that will fundamentally help them lower costs and improve efficiency. Manufacturers including TI are turning toward new materials, such as gallium-nitride (GaN) on a silicon substrate, to enable faster switching frequencies and even greater efficiencies from input voltages up to 700 volts. In addition to developing these HEMT (High-Electron Mobility Transistor) devices, we are developing several gate drivers uniquely suitable for GaN FETs and introducing advanced multichip modules (MCMs) that include both gate drivers and the GaN power FETs in a single package.
Megatrend No. 2: Energy efficiency
In the next four years, we will also see smarter management of the energy grid. Techniques such as “peak shaving” – basically taking power from the grid at night when energy usage and cost is low and delivering the energy back to the load during the daytime peaks will become more prevalent. This keeps the energy requirements from the grid for a home or building below a certain level during peak usage, easing the daytime energy demands.
Alternative energy generation further complicates the equation in that alternative energy sources typical vary throughout a 24-hour period. Unlike gas power plants, wind and solar vary greatly during a day. Using a similar technique to peak shaving, co-generating plants will become more cost-effective. The plants can maximize the use of alternative energy when available, and supplement the output with a natural gas steam plant. Cost-effective energy storage combined with efficient power conversion is necessary to make this type of arrangement commonplace in the future. Without the improved power conversion, the losses of moving energy into and out of the storage medium would be too large to be practical. I think the time is near when many of us have energy storage systems in our homes for use with our electric vehicles and to limit our home’s energy demand on the central energy grid. This will allow us to use those power-hungry products while not burdening the electric infrastructure. Consumers will win with lower costs (recharge at night with lower rates; discharge during the day during peak demand) and by being more conscious about their overall energy usage than they were in the past. Megatrend No. 3: Storing, delivering big data
Big data has to do with data creation, storage, retrieval and analysis that are astonishing in terms of volume, velocity and variety. Data volume of global consumer Web usage, e-mails and data traffic totals 6,706 petabytes per month(2), and industry analysts expect as much as 35 zetabytes of data(3) to be generated annually by 2020. Can we afford the power it takes to store and deliver this amount of data to millions of users every day? Clearly, we need to look at ways for power management technology to help drive more cost-effective and energy-efficient data storage. Consumers want constant access to their information, but most do not need access 24/7. However, once the computing power is in place to deliver this access, the costs do not vary across the day. Since companies can’t charge for this “maintenance,” they are searching for novel ways to scale their power usage while maintaining peak capacity, all while still making a profit. Improvements in our approach to data centers are needed to address this. Making a greater impact for tomorrow We live in an exciting time where innovation in power electronics is helping to solve the challenge of delivering and storing more power – and delivering that power more efficiently. We need to be open to novel ways of addressing traditional problems with advancements in semiconductor technology and power topologies building a more sustainable impactful future for everyone.
What other trends do you believe will drive power innovation in the next four years?
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