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For the past several decades, the topic of ‘power’ has been consistently viewed as a challenge focused primarily on incremental improvement in making devices run more efficiently and less expensively. Today, the conversation is changing as energy efficiency has grown into a strategic initiative in increasingly power-reliant industries such as data centers, electric vehicles, renewable energy systems, industrial motors, and consumer electronics.
Those industries rely on the ability to efficiently store, move, process, and analyze vast quantities of data. This requires millions of megawatts of energy. With the beginnings of the explosion in other data-intensive technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, and robotic autonomy – the pressures on power demand and energy-efficiency technologies will notably increase.
How businesses choose to generate, store, deliver and use power will be an important impetus for global change in 2019. As 2018 draws to a close, GaN unveils the four trends for 2019 which would have a major impact on the world’s power and energy footprint.
Electric Vehicles and Autonomous-Driving Vehicles
In 2018, it became increasingly clear that the future of transportation revolves around electric and autonomous vehicles. There are on the road today 4 million electric vehicles, with more than half of global sales in China. New entrants in various countries challenged entrenched leaders and global governments mandated low to zero emission protocols.
In 2019, the increase in fuel efficiency regulations and demand for eco-friendly automotive will continue to drive demand for electric vehicle alternatives.
Mobility as a Service will gain more mind share. Change in the social relationship between individuals and vehicles will continue to move from individual ownership to convenient on-demand use. On-demand itself will start to evolve to increasingly include fleets of autonomous vehicles, rather than be dominated by vehicles shared from individuals.
As a result, Research and design work in autonomy will move beyond just driving and into the recharging process for vehicles – that will pave the way to a fully autonomous vehicle experience in urban markets. Considerations into new cost and business models will need to be made in response to the move to more autonomous fleets of vehicles. Fleet vehicles are required to run 20 hours a day; not the 2 hours of private use vehicles. Not only will a low initial cost be important, but lower operating cost per kilometer and longer vehicle lifetimes in order to maximize ROI. New business and social behaviors, including autonomous fleets, will drive evolution towards new vehicle design requirements. Vehicle designs will evolve to be smaller, lighter, and more utilitarian, with a focus on maximizing passenger capacity.
Data Centers – The Impact of IoT, AI, Blockchain and 5G Services
In 2018, autonomous robots powered by AI where transforming factories and our environment, including the remote-controlled, floating, trash-collecting robots that eliminate trash from Chicago’s rivers. IoT-enabled smart cities, such as Barcelona, Singapore and Denver, are already saving millions in energy and labor efficiency while improving citizen services and public safety. 5G services will be available in U.S. cities in 2019, ushering in new augmented reality mobility applications. The ever-increasing influx of massive amounts of data and the explosive demand for energy will continue to be deeply linked – and will become even more so demanding with the rise of 5G, AI, and blockchain technologies.
In 2019 data centers we will see:
Continued push for energy efficiency and density – as computationally heavy demands grow and tech such as AI, electric vehicle, 5G and blockchain begin to be integrated across the infrastructure and operations of key industries. Operators will need to evolve from today’s server rack designs – and embrace technology to increase data and power density. IoT devices will require the data center industry to continue to reinvent itself – not only incrementally adding more security and robustness, but also evolving the edge with new kinds of edge/locally-focused data centers. Highly-efficient power supplies are key to the necessary evolution of the data center, tackling the challenge of increased energy conversion efficiency and enabling greater server rack density.
For AI and Blockchain, we will see:
Using advanced technology in power supplies to create smaller and more energy efficient hardware. This will enable blockchain to scale for business needs by processing more transactions per second without significantly increasing energy costs. When it comes to the integration of blockchain and the impact of artificial intelligence, faster traceability will improve companies’ business operations and accelerate delivery of their products to market – while enabling them to do so at lower power costs.
For 5G, we will see:
5G equipment will be everywhere in the world, requiring more bandwidth and power in smaller packages. GaN technology will play an important part on the rollout of 5G because of power density, energy efficiency and device size. 5G microcell base stations require very high efficiency and power density. Low cost power electronics using new technology will be needed so these can be installed economically. More local data centers will be built, leveraging the telco central office footprint, requiring the same focus on energy efficiency as in today’s mega data centers.
Renewables and Energy Storage
In 2018 technology, business economics, and social imperatives merged as the world’s need to address climate change and pollution had transformed the need for renewables from a secondary to a 24/7 constant source of power. New products are being developed that reflect a focus on connecting into the sometimes-unreliable energy grid in areas prone to catastrophic storms. A growing number of home energy storage projects are underway in several cities around the world. One such project highlighted was Mandalay Homes, a new housing development in Prescott Valley, AZ where 2,900 residences will be outfitted with solar and 8 kilowatt-hour energy storage systems.
In 2019, we will see highly efficient residential and commercial energy storage systems enabling high efficiency distribution, storage and on-demand access to renewable energy as well as the development of mainstream ways to supply portable power to residents and businesses in the aftermath of natural disasters such as storms and fires.
Wireless Charging Becomes Commonplace
One of the most significant trends in power electronics is wireless charging. As consumers continue to accumulate laptops, smart phones, wearables, e-bikes and e-scooters, the need for the convenience of wireless charging will take precedence. And, as industrial markets integrate more drones and robots into the supply chain and delivery processes, the charging of those devices needs to become more efficient, effective and long-lasting.
In 2019 we will see widespread fast wireless charging tech impacting the future and speed of adoption of the autonomous world (vehicles and drones) for new and expanding consumer uses. Robots that not only operate, but can recharge, autonomously without human intervention will continue to fuel the evolution of Industry 4.0. In wireless charging, providing high power for big loads or for fast charging small loads is the key.
At the center of these 2019 trends is the undeniable need for new ways of thinking about and addressing the power needs of the diverse technology that surrounds us. If we are to evolve globally, power cannot be taken for granted and simply viewed as an endless resource that comes out of a plug in a wall. Our global power footprint cannot continue to grow at past historic rates – for both business reasons and the health of our planet. Power semiconductor companies must take the lead in providing the technology for new power system design approaches. Businesses must take the responsibility for bringing attention to power expertise inside their own companies.
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