GaN Systems Looks Ahead to 2020 Game-Changing Technologies Associated With Power Electronics
For the past several decades, the subject of ‘power’ has been consistently viewed as a challenge focused primarily on the incremental improvement – be that by technology, by government regulations, or by shifting consumer behavior. Much attention has been paid to how the energy we use is generated, and rightly so. Energy production is one of the world’s largest sources of carbon emissions. As 2020 approaches, the issues around energy efficiency are significantly more prevalent, persuasive, and urgent than they were just twelve months ago. It is now a major impetus for global change – social, economic, and technological.
Data and energy are the acknowledged fuels for global economic growth. And the demand for both is increasing at unprecedented levels. Data consumption is at an all-time high with millions of global data centers producing 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily and a predicted 5X growth in just five to seven years. And those data centers use an astronomical 416 terawatt hours of electricity annually to keep up with that demand. The global demand for electricity has grown by nearly one-third over the past decade. Industry analysts predict that there will be a 57% increase in global electricity demand by 2050.
Energy efficiency is now a strategic initiative in increasingly power-reliant industries such as data centers, electric vehicles, renewable energy systems, industrial motors, and consumer electronics. How businesses choose to generate, store, deliver, and use power will be an important impetus for global change in 2020.
Over the past year, in conversations with corporate leaders, we at GaN Systems are more certain than ever before that yesterday’s silicon has reached its limits in solving critical power systems challenges. GaN (gallium nitride) technology is the clear and undisputed solution for driving more robust growth and product innovation, as well as enabling companies to elevate the conversation and engage more deeply in sustainability initiatives.
As the year draws to a close, GaN Systems, the global leader of GaN power semiconductors, unveils the four trends for 2020 which we believe will have a major impact on the world’s power and energy footprint.
Trend 1: Electric Vehicles
In 2019, it became increasingly clear that the near future of transportation revolves around electric vehicles, and in the longer term around autonomous vehicles that are also electric. Today, there are 5.1 million electric vehicles on global roads. Given the amount electricity needed as “fuel” for electric vehicles, the stage is set for a massive unfavorable hit to the global energy grid as 125 million electric vehicles are expected to be on the roads by 2035. The evolution of the design of Chargers and Traction Inverters will play a major role in automotive design studios in 2020, and then onto the public roads in the years following. In order to address the long-standing issue of ‘range anxiety,’ the number of public electric charging stations will continue to grow, with an increasing focus on solar power and plug standardization.
In 2020, GaN Systems predicts:
- Electric Vehicles:
- The demand for EVs will continue with fuel efficiency pressure and driving range at the center of consumer demands.
- Designs from major auto manufacturers will focus on increased efficiency, power density and reduced weight with a focus on Chargers and Traction Inverters.
- Battery technology will continue to improve and then, combined with lighter weight vehicles, will contribute to increase vehicle range and consumer acceptance.
- Autonomous Vehicles:
- In the shorter term, will see technology evolution in Level 2 to Level 3 autonomy and improved safety systems using LiDAR.
- GaN technology is being used in the design of higher power, longer range detection solutions.
Trend 2: 5G Rollout Will Accelerate in 2020
In 2019, the 5G rollout was slower than expected, primarily due to the issues around communications service providers (CSPs) upgrading 4G infrastructure within 5G areas of coverage. Nevertheless, according to Gartner research, 5G services have already begun the U.S., South Korea, and some European countries, including Switzerland, Finland and the U.K.
In China, 5G commercial services are now available in 50 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. In Shanghai, nearly 12,000 5G base stations have been activated to support 5G coverage across the city’s key outdoor areas. CSPs in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Spain, Sweden, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have announced plans to accelerate 5G network building through 2020. As a result, Gartner estimates that 7% of CSPs worldwide have already deployed 5G infrastructure in their networks.
In 2020, GaN Systems predicts:
- 5G equipment will continue its ramp up throughout the world, requiring greater bandwidth and power in smaller enclosures. GaN power transistors will be the transistor of choice on the rollout of 5G because of power density, energy efficiency, and system size requirements for macro and micro base stations for broadband delivery. GaN RF transistors will play an important part for the power amplifiers of those base stations.
- GaN will solve a fundamental problem with delivering 5G broadband services to the customer.
- The very high frequency of 5G excels at transporting large quantities of data fast. But the signal does not go through walls. A GaN-based power solution solves this problem with both signal and power transferred through a wall or a window.
- Wireless through-wall with GaN means low cost equipment can be installed and maintained economically and reliably. Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) with wireless power transfer technology solves the 5G data ‘wall problem’.
- GaN solves the power efficiency and size issues of 5G equipment – in the networks and base stations.
- 5G macro and micro base stations require very high efficiency and power density. These networks are expected to consume at least twice the amount of power as today’s networks since they will require both new cell sites and more power to run existing sites.
- Using GaN technology will produce smaller and lighter equipment with up to 50% increase in power density.
- 5G macro and micro base stations, power is reaching 2-3X the requirements of legacy systems. While 5G will improve energy efficiency since energy cost per bit is 1/10 its level on 4G, base stations are still energy-hungry at network-level, due to tens of times traffic increase. 70 million micro base stations alone are expected to be deployed by 2025.
TREND 3: Renewables and Energy Storage
In 2019, renewable energy production has not yet met the mainstream milestone of 24/7 availability. That said, the social attitudes, local policies, and consumer awareness are in place to push this imperative forward with the urgency that it requires. Across the globe, there needs to be a focused and disciplined mandate to address climate change, pollution, and the unreliability of energy grids.
- Natural disasters (e.g. loss of power from hurricanes, earthquakes, snow storms) and ‘wildfire prevention’ power outages (called PSPS for public safety power shutdown) imposed by utility companies in California has resulted in an increasingly unreliable energy grid. An increasing danger to human life and businesses has been the result.
- Power outages have gone beyond inconvenience. We depend on power for our personal safety and financial livelihoods. People are now rethinking how much power is a part of their lives. Along with food, water, shelter – power is now one of the most important required components of modern life.
In 2020, GaN Systems predicts:
- Highly efficient residential and commercial energy storage systems (ESS) using GaN technology will enable distribution, local storage, and on-demand access to renewable energy. Both cost reduction and increasing energy security demands will drive this.
- With the price of ESS dropping and increased residential and commercial interest, sales of ESS will continue to rise, particularly in states such as California and Texas.
- Smaller ‘all-in-one’ products such as solar panels with solar inverter and battery storage built in will provides AC power 24/7 if the local power grid goes down. GaN’s efficiency in power conversion (lighter weight and smaller ESS) will be a key component to enable this kind of product design.
- The movement from lead acid to lithium ion batteries will lead to declining battery costs and the development of smaller, lightweight, energy-dense batteries that will pair with GaN technology-based converters and inverters to lead the revolution in ESS.
- Interest in local micro-grids for both business and residences will grow as individuals look to increase their energy security and leverage a collective of individuals ESSs.
TREND 4: Power Adapters and Power Chargers: Higher Power and the Rise Of USB-C + USB-PD
In 2019, we witnessed GaN’s proliferation in the consumer electronics space with an abundance of smaller, lighter, and higher power adapters/chargers in the aftermarket. The tiny adapters had everyone’s attention as size and weights were decreased by 2X or 3X.
In 2020, GaN Systems predicts:
- Growing momentum for USB-C and USB-PD products which can be used to charge any compatible product. The days of one charger for one piece of electronics will quickly disappear and the days of one charger for all your electronics will begin to dominate. A single adapter/charger that handles every device regardless of varying voltages for a phone (5V), tablet (12V), or laptop (19V).
- In-box GaN adapters/chargers (shipping inside the box with the computer or with the mobile phone) will start to become common. Pressure will build on computer and phone makers to deliver higher power levels for Fast-Charging.
- In the aftermarket, one GaN-powered adapter with two “type C” ports will be capable meeting the high-power needs of multiple device charging in a small form factor.
- USB-PD will garner increasing commercial interest across industries besides mobile phones and computers with its spec for higher power (100W) applications. Industrial markets will also demand a new generation of smaller and more powerful chargers for uses in portable test equipment, industrial equipment, medical and supply chain applications.
Conclusion: Meeting These Challenges with GaN Technology
At the core of these 2020 trends is the undeniable need for new ways of addressing growing global power consumption and delivery. Power cannot be viewed as an endless resource that comes out of a plug in a wall. There are many questions over the next twelve months and coming years that will arise in regard to electrical power: How do we meet the power demands of all the technology that surrounds us 24/7? And, how do we do that in a way that is both economically and socially responsible?
We can not endlessly shift the CO2 emissions and pollution problems across industries, geographies and future generations. Doing so solves nothing on a global level. And we must do so using less materials by making products dramatically smaller and lighter – using less to accomplish the job.
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. Removing the limitations of yesterday’s silicon – by using GaN power transistors – will enable enterprise organizations to usher in entirely new energy efficient systems and products capable of transforming the future.
In 2020, looking at products in the market and next generation products in development using GaN technology, we can clearly see that GaN has become the basic building block of power efficiency proliferating through all the power systems of the world.