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PCIM 2022 KEYNOTE Power electronics for a future sustainable society - efficiency, electrification, and flexibility

From Luke James

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In the race to achieving net-zero, power electronics is the technology that will help us to make the transition to green energy and widespread electrification. At PCIM Europe 2022, Professor Ichiro Omura of the Kyushu Institute of Technology explored three areas where it will have the greatest impact.

Power electronics will not only help us successfully transition to 100 % clean energy globally, but it’s the key to unlocking further developments in areas like electrification, and renewable energy storage.
Power electronics will not only help us successfully transition to 100 % clean energy globally, but it’s the key to unlocking further developments in areas like electrification, and renewable energy storage.
(Source: narawit - stock.adobe.com )

A cleaner, greener future is one of our planet’s most essential goals, if not the most essential. As the global population continues to grow, the need for a new approach to energy is pushing us towards more sustainability as innovators scramble to engineer new solutions to the looming climate and energy crisis. To slow down the effects of climate change, we must reduce our emissions to zero. Not by a quarter, not by half—zero. This requires us to essentially reinvent our energy system, and power electronics is set to lead the way.

Power electronics is the technology that’s the key to unlocking efficient use, distribution, and generation of electrical energy. It’s the technology that will not only help us successfully transition to 100 % clean energy globally, but it’s the key to unlocking further developments in areas like electrification, where stronger, better batteries will help electric vehicles become more accessible, and renewable energy storage.

Efficiency, electrification, and flexibility

In a keynote at the 2022 PCIM Europe conference, Power Electronics for a Future Sustainable Society, Professor Ichiro Omura of the Kyushu Institute of Technology explored three areas where power electronics will have the greatest contribution to sustainability—efficiency, electrification, and flexibility:

  • The efficiency of economic output
  • The electrification of economic activity
  • The flexibility to secure electrified economic activity under high variable renewable energy (VRE) ratio

A keynote slide depicting the three areas where Professor Omura says that power electronics will have the greatest contribution to sustainability.
A keynote slide depicting the three areas where Professor Omura says that power electronics will have the greatest contribution to sustainability.
(Source: Kyushu Institute of Technology )

Watch the whole keynote here:

High-efficiency heating

Professor Omura gave the example of high-efficiency heating where these three factors are having a huge impact by i) decreasing fossil fuel electricity demand, ii) helping to introduce more VRE through unit installation, and iii) helping to balance demand and supply under high VRE ratio.

According to figures provided to Professor Omura by Toshiba Carrier, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems in residential settings enable annual efficiency improvements of 2.2 % per year for 40 years and an average price reduction ratio of -2.7 % per year across the same time period.

An installation and renewable energy cost per kWh between high-efficiency heat pumps and other renewables.
An installation and renewable energy cost per kWh between high-efficiency heat pumps and other renewables.
(Source: Kyushu Institute of Technology )

Professor Omura also highlighted the low installation and renewable energy cost per kWh of high-efficiency heat pumps, which are much lower than sources such as biomass and offshore wind. This can in large part be credited to the sophisticated power electronics components found in high-efficiency heat pumps, which enable the units to operate with ultra-high efficiency across long lifecycles.

Challenges ahead

While examples like this paint a very positive picture of the impact of power electronics and how as a technology it’s helping to lead the charge towards carbon neutrality, many challenges lay ahead.

One of these is the need for more efficient power transmission. In order to achieve true carbon neutrality, we need to be able to reduce electrical energy conversion losses. With current silicon-based power electronics, however, this is relatively difficult compared to newer materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN). While innovations with these materials are progressing, there are fears that things aren’t moving fast enough.

There’s also the power density challenge. In order for power electronics to be more energy-efficient, power density needs to increase so as to allow more power to be processed in a smaller space while simultaneously enhancing the functionality of power systems. This is easier said than done, though.

So, while power electronics is having a direct contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and it’s easy to point to products like high-efficiency heat pumps as signs of significant progress, it’s important to keep these and other challenges in mind and understand that there is still lots of space for more innovation.

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