WASHINGTON With energy efficiency emerging as the "bridge fuel" to renewable, clean energy sources, the power electronics industry is poised to step into the breach with software as well as hardware solutions needed to build intelligent power systems.
Energy efficiency has become so important to electronics manufacturers and consumers alike that an industry survey and roadmap found that consumers are now willing to pay a premium for electronic products that deliver energy efficiency. "There's demand for power efficiency," said Carl Blake, who helped compile the industry's latest roadmap for the Power Supply Manufacturers' Association. "Energy conservation is driving higher efficiency."
The group's roadmap predicts lower costs and higher device densities as well as improved energy efficiency measured in dollars per watt. At high unit volumes, the group predicts that dollar/W efficiency for power electronics will drop to as low as 12 cents by 2013.
While much of the focus at this week's Applied Power Electronics Conference here is focused on the hardware side of the energy efficiency equation, there also was much talk of "smart power" systems and the integrated software and tools needed for applications like a smart energy grid. "Software is becoming more and more important" for achieving energy efficiency in future electronics, said John Weil, a product and "enablement" manager with Freescale Semiconductor Inc. (Austin, Texas).
"To be successful, we should learn to design with a holistic approach" that utilizes software tools along with hardware to build power efficient systems, Weil added. Part of Freescale's "energy efficient systems concept" includes a detailed energy budget for each embedded design. For example, Weil said, memory is becoming increasingly cheap, but energy consumption typically increases with memory density. Power electronics designers must take these factors into account when designing new systems.
What's more, designers must make greater use of the intelligence provided by software so that hardware components like microcontrollers, power MOSFETs and DSPs can communicate with each other to help reduce power consumption.
The growing focus on energy efficiency comes as the Obama administration plans to spend billions of dollars on power conservation and sustainable energy projects as part of a $787 billion stimulus package. "Energy efficiency is the bridge fuel we must build on and must invest in," said Andrew Fanara, who helps run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program.
Part of the Obama administration's strategy is to use energy efficiency as a way to buy time to explore and invest in emerging clean energy options. Energy efficiency "is the cheapest, cleanest, fastest way to act," Fanara said.
With initiatives like a U.S. smart power grid gaining traction, companies at the power electronics conference were stressing new designs aimed at increasing energy efficiency in applications ranging from flat-panel displays and LEDs to the power distribution infrastructure. Some, like Freescale, are also stressing software development as a way to add more intelligence.
"Integrated software at the power-stage level is the future," argued Freescale's Weil, adding that the know-how is available but far from prevalent.