The new decade has dawned and it promises to be a big one for the power management sector. But be warned it may take several years before we start seeing the real dividends.
Whether you believe in Global Warming or not there is no doubt that it is the engine driving the growing demand for energy efficiency and towards the back end of the past decade large sums were being pumped into the power management sector to try and stimulate the switch over to more energy efficient alternatives across a wide spectrum of commercial and industrial activities.
The recent recession has nipped in the bud some of these investment initiatives but, with the added impetus from governments worldwide, the funds are starting to seep down to where they are needed.
However, as we tiptoe into 2010 there still seems a fair degree of scepticism as to how successful some of these power management sectors will ultimately turn out to be.
The solar cell market was hyped up towards the end of the past decade and as we enter a new one some of the claims for progress do tend to look merely like claims with not a great deal of substance behind them. In the next year or two the solar cell industry looks set to see a lot of volatility as too many suppliers chase too little money. There are bound to be a number of casualties as a result. The real danger is that the money men start to realise that solar technology may take a lot longer than they anticipated before they start seeing any payback on their investments. The solar companies that can ride through the next few years intact should be sitting pretty by the end of the decade but it could be a turbulent ride.
The transport sector is another one where recently large sums of money have been injected by various governments to try and boost the development of electric and hybrid vehicles. This has obvious implications for the power management design engineers. Aside from the numerous technical challenges involved the key battle is likely to be convincing road users that battery powered vehicles can be viable alternatives to the traditional petrol or diesel based modes of transport.
Price performance and reliability are the key issues here. Both remain to be proven for electric vehicles in mass transit scenarios. Once again patience may be necessary. By the end of the decade we might all be driving around in electric cars but as I write this blog I am still far from convinced that enough infrastructure will have been implemented by then to see the end of the internal combustion engine.
One of the big money spinners for the power management component suppliers looks like being the advent of the 'Smart Grid'. Governments across Europe and the rest of the world seem to have embraced the concept of 'smart metering' which does appear to make sense for all parties involved. Certainly the volumes of power management ICs and related electronic devices these smart meters will consume will bolster many a balance sheet in the power management sector. However, just because governments think smart meters are a good thing does not mean that the humble consumer will agree.
In theory smart meters should help us all reduce our power consumption but in reality it looks like many consumers are suspicious that the meters are rigged to overstate the amount of energy we consume. Everyone loves a conspiracy theory and smart meters could provide a lot for the theorists to get their teeth into in the next ten years. Smart meters look likely to attract the fraternity that gathered in numbers to protest around the introduction of long-life lightbulbs.
Perhaps the battery sector is the one that is going to have to up its game the most in the next decade. Mobile communications is really go to put a squeeze on the battery developers. Mobile devices are being packed with more and more features (we haven't scratched the surface yet). Battery run times are going to do very well to keep pace with these new demands. Energy harvesting techniques and smarter power management ICs may be able to help out to some degree but it looks like a major technology breakthrough is going to be needed if we are not all going to run out of juice before we see the dawn of 2020.