PCIM 2022 KEYNOTE A look at the past, present, and future of power conversion technology
The application of switched-mode power conversion technology began in consumer electronics more than four decades ago. In that time, it has spread itself out to almost all industries, enabling them to benefit from higher power conversion efficiency, lighter weight, and increased power density at lower costs.
At PCIM Europe 2022, Dr. Peter Wallmeier, Senior Director of Research & Development at Delta Energy Systems, presented a keynote that explores the technological innovations that led to an increase in conversion efficiency from below 75 % to today’s benchmark of 98 % at power densities from an initial 0.2kW/l to now 6kW/l over the past 40 years. The keynote also outlined future trends for achieving ultra-efficient and ultra-dense power conversion technology.
Watch the whole keynote here:
The goals and challenges of high-frequency power conversion
When we look at the goals of high-frequency power conversion, it’s easy to understand the huge role that it plays in helping us achieve renewed innovation in the electronics space.
The overarching goal of high-frequency power conversion is to make power electronics smaller, smarter, and more efficient. Higher switching frequency reduces energy storage requirements and passive component sizes, which benefits all power electronics applications. The inherently bulky nature of traditional power electronics means that miniaturization and efficiency improvements can often drastically reduce overall system size, weight, and cost, as well as enabling new system functionality.
Comparing switch mode applications: 1981 vs 2022
Looking as far back as 1981, we can see that the application areas for switch-mode conversion technologies were very limited to low voltage applications in telecoms, consumer electronics, and home appliances—personal computers, televisions, radios, and lighting being primary examples.
Fast forward 40 years to the present day and the situation is vastly different; switch mode conversion technology is being used everywhere. “It has penetrated all kinds of industries, and nearly every device you can hold in your hand has some form of switch-mode conversion technology inside of it,” said Dr. Wallmeier during his keynote conference.
Examples of applications that use switch-mode conversion today include e-mobility, wireless charging, and medical imagery, all of which operate at much higher voltages and power densities than earlier applications that were limited to basic consumer electronics devices.
Looking to the future, it’s clear that future developments in power supply technologies will be led by new materials like gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC), which are expected to offer major increases in efficiency while utilizing much smaller form factors. This is because the limit of GaN technology (the orange line on the above graph) is much higher than the limit of silicon technology (the blue line on the above graph) which we’re quickly approaching according to Moore’s Law.
The future has just begun
Higher switching frequency is one of the best tools available to power electronics designers today. While the advantages of increased switching frequency, such as lower losses and size reduction, are very desirable and unlock the potential for a whole host of new innovations and applications.
We’re already seeing the potential for GaN in wireless charging and other high-frequency applications. As wireless charging becomes an increasingly common trend, GaN is enabling industrial customers to leverage the technology’s advantages as well, a recent example being wireless charging for warehouse robots. This is because GaN exhibits major advantages over silicon at high frequencies, which enable not only increased efficiency but a whole host of further advantages which benefit the end-user.