Seventy-three billion kilowatt-hours of energy. That’s a whopping 73,000,000,000 kWh—the estimate of energy that will be consumed by U.S. data centers in 2020, according to a 2016 study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory . As long as our appetite for computation-intensive data services continues to increase, so will the need to deliver more energy in less space to run these centers as efficiently as possible.
And this usage represents only data centers. The same need to supply high-density power systems is also present in telecommunications, industrial automation, vehicles and numerous other systems.
One means to increase efficient delivery of power is to leverage new power semiconductor technologies, including gallium-nitride (GaN). GaN has intrinsically superior device properties related to switching performance when compared to traditional silicon solutions, which when deployed in a switching power supply takes power supply efficiency to a higher level than what was previously possible. For the end user this ultimately saves energy, lowers operating costs, and reduces the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
GaN is not immune to challenges. Historically, the challenges have been related to manufacturing and the ability to deliver high quality and reliable GaN. However, as manufacturing processes across the industry improve and adoption increases, the challenges have transitioned to implementation and system design. Achieving higher efficiency requires more than just switching silicon for GaN, as the technology also enables system level changes that also boost efficiency. The technology empowers the design engineer with the ability to increase slew rates and switching frequencies, and to minimize the sources of power loss. These new design challenges provide significant opportunity for end product innovation and differentiation.