The need to supply, modify and control the voltage, current or frequency of electric power creates some considerable challenges...
by Tony Christian - Cambashi
The field of power electronics, the application of electronics for the control and conversion of electric power, is underpinned by basic electrical principles that were established in the distant past by the pioneers of electrical science. But today, the need to supply, modify and control the voltage, current or frequency of electric power arises in a vast number of applications and products spanning a huge range in terms of power handling capability. The industry has generated numerous technological advances to address the ever growing spectrum of requirements; in its 30th anniversary edition, Power Electronics Technology described some of the most important developments of the past three decades.
In the limit, the requirements for power electronics systems range from those designed to handle a few milliwatts such as the DC/DC converters designed to maintain constant voltage as the battery power declines in mobile phones and portable hand held devices, to those handling many megawatts in the large power converters used in the electrical generation and distribution industry. Naturally, the challenges for power electronics designers vary considerably according to application and scale. Those challenges now cover not only electrical function (particularly the drive to maximize efficiency for the power and frequency range in question), but a host of practical and, especially in consumer products, even aesthetic design constraints. For example, the developers of devices like mobile phones or PCs seek to pack ever more functionality into smaller spaces and their power supplies must not consume a disproportionate amount of that space. At the same time, the ever-closer proximity of the components imposes increasing constraints on electromagnetic radiation and limits the ability to dissipate heat. But that kind of challenge is not limited to what is usually regarded as the high tech sector – it seems that even purchasers of auto battery chargers want them to be small and attractive!