Watch These Three Power Conversion Trends

Jan. 10, 2010
Three power supply trends will be worth watching in 2010: dc power distribution in buildings, energy harvesting in environmental control, and digital power control.

Trends in power supplies follow trends in applications. They can be “emerging” applications or applications that are gaining traction. Several trends will be evident in 2010 and beyond, but three are worth watching now: dc power distribution in buildings, energy harvesting, and digital power control.

The idea for dc power distribution in buildings has been tossed around for some time, but a triple convergence could drive adoption more quickly: solid-state lighting (LEDs), renewable energy (photovoltaics, or PV), and the Smart Grid (demand-side management). All of these are emerging now, with next-generation products and cost parity arriving around 2014.

Also, dc power distribution can work with existing building automation, including energy harvesting, and major companies are backing the model. Panasonic Electric Works, Sanyo Electric, and Panasonic Electronics are developing hybrid ac and dc electricity feeder panels for homes, PV panels, rechargeable batteries to provide dc power, and dc white goods and appliances. When large companies like these get behind a new technology, its potential for success goes up.

Energy harvesting has already gained traction in Europe, particularly in building automation technologies. Such technologies will “cross over” from the Introductory phase of the product life cycle curve to the growth phase in the 2009-2010 timeframe. This is based on first-generation product introductions that started in 2002 and third-generation products appearing in 2009, according to the EnOcean Alliance.

Commercial sales depend on demand, however, and there are now enough real-world applications to support the adoption of energy harvesting technologies. These include low-power sensors, interfaces, batteries, and system designs that target applications beyond building automation, including environmental monitoring, industrial process, medical, automotive, and RFID.

Digital power management and control has already “crossed over,” at least in terms of price parity with analog solutions.The overall average price of existing analog controller ICs is currently about $1.00, and digital power controller ICs reached this same price in 2009. In addition, the “spread” of prices for digital devices has narrowed, which is another indication that the market for specialized digital controllers is maturing and becoming more competitive with analog controller ICs.

The digital IC market is shifting, though. The total number of digital ICs, including controller ICs, converter ICs, and system management ICs, was projected to reach just over 5 billion by the end of 2009. But the IC mix is changing, with converter ICs losing share to both controller ICs and system management ICs.

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