A couple of weeks ago I did my bit for the environment by putting extra insulation in my loft. One added benefit of the whole insulation process was the need to clear out all the extraneous material I have been hoarding in the loft for decades.
To my surprise what I mainly found up there was old magazines I used to write for in my formative years as an embryonic journalist. As luck would have it most of the material was old copies of Electronics Times the UK electronic industry's weekly tabloid newspaper that was an early precursor to EETimes Europe.
For my sins Electronics Times was my first ever job as a trainee journalist and I cut my teeth reporting the boom and bust years of the UK electronics scene in the early 1980s.
Eventually I became ET's Special Reports coordinator and flicking through back issues of ET I soon discovered a Special Report on Power that I edited in April 1982.
Apart from the sheer nostalgia of looking at stories about Mullard, Ferranti Semiconductors, Gould Power Supplies, Coutant Electronics, BICC-Vero and BEREC to name a few it is interesting to compare and contrast what the technology and market trends were then compared to now.
Back then we were also in the throes of another recession. Plus ca change then?
In 1982 the two technologies that were gradually going to transform the fortunes of the power sector were still very much in their infancy.
MOSFET technology was being hailed as a new driving force that would challenge the then might bipolar transistor market. International Rectifier was very vocal and active in 1982 claiming that MOSFETs would take 40 percent of the power transistor market by the mid 1980s rising from a 10 percent share earlier in the decade.
Fast forward 27 years and International Rectifier is once again hailing the prospects of a new technology with its new gallium nitride-based power device technology which the company claims will be regarded as the HEXFET of this generation. I wonder if by 2035 we will be fondly reminiscing about gallium nitride power devices as the technology that helped us ease out of the recession of 2009?
The other Great Hope of 1982 was Lithium battery technology. At the time, Lithium batteries were regarded very much as a secondary technology and only accounted for 0.4 percent of the total UK battery market.
A quarter of decade later and it is hard to see what is going to displace Lithium from its prime position in the battery technology stakes.
Zinc-based technologies are perhaps one of the most likely contenders on the radar at this time but despite its environmental friendly benefits it is hard to see zinc-based technologies sweeping all before it in the way that Lithium has eventually achieved.
Despite the recession in the early 1980s the power market back then tended to ride out the rough ride better than most and that is likely to remain the case in the Noughties too.
Back in the 1980s the automotive industry was expected to drive the way to growth but in reality it was probably the telecoms sector that had more impact.
This time around it is hard to see the automotive sector coming to the rescue although the U.S. government bailout of its automotive sector may help boost some battery manufacturers. For example, Ener1 has recently applied for a $480 million in low-interest loans under a new federal program to spur development of the next generation of US fuel-efficient vehicles. This week A123Systems has also submitted an application under the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program to qualify for $1.84 billion in direct loans to support the construction of new world-class lithium ion battery manufacturing facilities in the United States.
The Great Hope of this generation is touted as being solar cell technology but production over capacity looks like making that a poisoned chalice for all but the lucky few.
The 'Obama generation' may well find that it is the healthcare industry that represents the cavalry coming to the rescue in the next few years.
Personal medical devices look set for an explosion as the healthcare industry's policies shift from treatment to prevention. Preventative personal medicine requires constant patient monitoring and real-time drug delivery.
Energy harvesting is the most logical and economic method of powering the patient's personal monitoring devices and this may well drive volume sales of a variety of medical devices in much large numbers than ever dreamt possible by power electronics companies in the 1980s. Power management ICs will be vital to maximise the potential of energy harvesting solutions for devices powering glucose monitoring systems for diabetics.
The announcement this week that in the UK a person is diagnosed with diabetes every three minutes shows just how big the future volumes of personal medical devices may be.
The monitoring demands of modern healthcare may just mesh with the economic needs of the modern power management industry at the right time. It does seem ironic that our increasingly sedentary lifestyles might just be the trend that may help to pull us through this recession without having to all 'get on our bikes' as Norman Tebbit once urged Thatcher's Britain back in the early 1980s.