PCIM EUROPE 2023: KEYNOTE HV Silicon and SiC power semiconductors: Key components for sustainable energy solutions
At PCIM 2023, Munaf Rahimo presented a keynote that explores high-power and high-voltage semiconductors and their importance in areas including industrial manufacturing and tomorrow’s power grids.
The ongoing global chip shortage together with growing electrification and digitalization trends have increased awareness surrounding the world’s reliance on semiconductors. According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, the increasing pace of digital transformation means that by 2030 the semiconductor industry is likely to be worth in excess of US$1 trillion. The semiconductors that will address future demand will be far more powerful, sophisticated, and functional than ever before, with high-voltage silicon and SiC power semiconductors emerging as key components that will drive next-generation semiconductor processes and sustainable energy solutions.
At PCIM 2023, Munaf Rahimo, the President and Founder of MTAL, presented his keynote, HV Silicon and SiC Power Semiconductors: Key Components for Sustainable Energy Solutions, focusing on high-power and high-voltage semiconductors and their critical importance for industrial manufacturing and the power grids of the future.
Watch the whole keynote here:
High-voltage and high-power semiconductors
Although debate still continues surrounding Moore’s Law and whether it can still be applied, it is something that has served the industry well for more than six decades and has continued relevance as designers push the capabilities of their chips to new heights.
“We see a lot of statements that the silicon chip is dead, that it has reached its theoretical limits, and that it could be a thing of the past… I have a very simple answer for that; it’s ‘no, no, no!’,” remarks Rahimo, explaining that we have both mature and new technologies, and both will continue to play a vital role in power electronics in the future.
That said, there is a lot of focus nowadays on silicon carbide (SiC) for good reason. “It provides us with a leap,” says Rahimo. “It gives us a near as possible ideal switch device performance.” Indeed, its properties are ideal for use in industrial manufacturing and power grids.
Unlike in electromobility where low-voltage semiconductors are used, tomorrow’s power grids will be expected to operate 24 hours a day for many years with high reliability. With the increasing use of renewable energy sources and the increasing need for electrical energy in general, the semiconductor industry is tasked with providing devices suitable for these applications, and it’s turning to high-voltage solutions to do so.
Maximizing efficiency in renewable energy systems
SiC-based power switches are popular switches in high-power applications such as renewable energy systems because of their performance advantages when compared to traditional silicon power switches such as IGBTs.
IGBTs tend to be used where there is a need for well-controlled, medium-speed switching. They are also cheaper than comparable silicon MOSFETs. IGBTs can handle higher voltages than traditional MOSFETs, but that comes with high switching losses when silicon is used.
The first advantage of SiC is lower resistance and capacitance relative to IGBTs, which reduces power losses and helps to maximize efficiency. SiC power switches are capable of supporting much higher switching speeds, which consequently helps to reduce switching losses and improves power conversion efficiency. This leads to the achievement of higher energy yields necessary for maximizing the output of power converters in renewable energy systems and advanced power modules.
Another major advantage is its higher temperature operability. Many renewable energy systems operate in small areas with high heat generation, which has forced designers to search for ways to reduce PCB size and maximize heat dissipation. SiC can operate at much higher temperatures than traditional silicon IGBTs, giving SiC power switches higher stability, and enabling them to be used in more advanced and compact designs for power electronics.
SiC MOSFETs will proliferate with time
Reliable, high-voltage power is essential in a variety of areas including renewable energy and power grids. To take full advantage of the power output potential of modern renewable energy systems, it’s critical to maximize efficiency while balancing cost, size, and reliability.
As Rahimo explored in the keynote, SiC power switches have several key advantages in high-power applications that make them the ideal candidate for applications like industrial manufacturing and power grids.
Although high-voltage silicon IGBTs will dominate for the foreseeable future as it remains attractive for some applications, high-voltage SiC MOSFETs are close to an ideal switch. Over time, high-voltage devices will gradually emerge to complete with IGBTs.
“We have just begun our journey with high voltage SiC MOSFETs and will encounter many challenges, including new ones. However, we will resolve them with improved processes, designs, and tests in due time, as was the case with silicon,” says Rahimo.