Topics & Trends

Today already 40% of the world wide used energy is provided by electric power. It is expected that this share is going to rise to about 60% until 2040. This enormous amount of energy not only needs to be produced environmentally friendly, but it also should be distributed and used efficiently. Power Electronics is the technology associated with the efficient conversion, control and conditioning of electric energy from the source to the load. It is the enabling technology for the generation, distribution and efficient use of electrical energy. It is a cross-functional technology covering the very high Giga Watt (GW) power (e.g. in energy transmission lines) down to the very low milli Watt (mW) power needed to operate a mobile phone. Many market segments such as domestic and office appliances, computer and communication, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting, factory automation and drives, traction, automotive and renewable energy, benefit from the application of power electronics technology.

    Power Electronics is key for improving energy efficiency and enabling a sustainable energy supply based on renewables. As a cross-functional technology it is enabling

    • efficiently feeding-in wind and solar energy to the grids,
    • stabilizing the power grids with increasing share of fluctuating renewable energies,
    • highly efficient variable speed motor drives,
    • energy efficient and low-emission mobility with hybrid and full electric vehicles,
    • an energy saving lighting technology,
    • efficient recovery of braking energy,
    • energy management of batteries,
    • control appliances and building management systems via the smart grid interface

    PE Megatopics & Trends

    Wide Bandgap Power Electronics

    The Wide Bandgap (WBG) semiconductors silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) offering higher efficiency and higher power density compete against the dominating power semiconductor material silicon.

    The advantages of WBG semiconductors on system level, higher voltage and temperature operation as well as higher switching frequency enabling volume and weight reduction, are related to fundamental material properties of these materials, e.g. electric field, energy gap, electron velocity, melting point and thermal conductivity.

    Fast switching will become key in many applications because this will open a new generation of power electronics. Increasing the switching frequency enables the miniaturization of passive components for energy storage and filtering in power electronic systems. In a photovoltaic inverter, for example, the increase of switching frequency from 48 kHz to 250 kHz results in a weight and volume reduction by a factor of five.

    After many years of research in SiC materials and device technology we see more and more devices entering the market from various suppliers in Europe, Japan and US. Now the research effort should focus on wide bandgap system integration involving all necessary technology steps along the value chain of WBG power electronics towards the systems and applications.


    Source: Little Box 2 by PES at ETH Zürich (figure courtesy of ETH Zürich)

    Reliability and Robustness Validation

    Robustness Validation describes a process how to design, develop, manufacture and test electronic devices, components and systems. It is a process based on the knowledge of the conditions of use (mission profile), the failure mechanisms as well as of accelerated models needed for accelerated tests

    This involves a paradigm shift from "test for standards" to "test-to-fail". The physics-of-failure and end-of-life test approach requires a lot of new strategies and methods.


    Source: ECPE

    Power Electronics and Energy Efficiency

    Power electronics is a key technology for the efficient conversion, control and conditioning of electric energy from the source to the load. The energy saving potential of power electronics in various applications is mainly related to highly efficient variable speed motor drives with energy recovery, to smart power supplies enabling high efficiency over a wide load range and zero-power standby function as well as to energy efficient and low-emission mobility with hybrid and full electric vehicles. The estimated energy savings potential that can be achieved by introducing power electronics into systems is enormous, more than 25% of the current electricity consumption in Europe.

    Source: Istock

    Power Electronics and Renewable Energies

    Power electronics is a key technology for the grid integration of renewable energies e.g. inwind turbine converters, HVDC for offshore wind park connection, SVC/STATCOM for grid code compliance, energy storage for improving stability as well as PV solar inverters.

    Source: Istock

    Power Electronics and e-Mobility

    Power electronics is a key technology for e-mobility on the vehicle side as well as on the grid side. The on-board power electronic converters include the drive inverter, DC/DC converters and the battery charger. For the integration of electric vehicles to the power grid a charging infrastructure is needed for the of electric vehicles.

    Source: Fraunhofer IISB

    Power Electronics and Future (Smart) Power Grids

    Power electronics will have an increasing importance in the future energy systems especially with respect to the energy transition towards an electricity grid dominated by power electronics on the generation side as well as on the load side. The transition from fossil fuels with centralized generation to renewable energies with decentralized generation is already discussed since many years but now we are approaching a transition point where fluctuating renewables are dominating. The stabilization and control of such grids without strong 50Hz backbone provided by conventional generation is one major challenge.

    For all relevant interfaces in the power grid e.g. for the vehicle-to-grid connection or for the grid integration of energy storage smart power electronics is needed.

    Source: ECPE

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