A look at the future of power management and energy efficiency
As we approach the limit of what silicon-based technologies can deliver in power management, a new category of materials is providing exciting opportunities in energy saving.
The trend towards electrification of many industries is both well established and well supported by climate change policy trends. Efficient management of electrical power is therefore crucial, and one very interesting area is the market for power management chips, which encompasses products such as inverters, diodes and power transistors. The traditional silicon-based technology for power management is now reaching technical limits meaning that performance improvement is quite incremental. However, a new category of ‘wide band gap’ (WBG) materials such as Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride offer material reductions in energy loss, and are set to take considerable market share.
The main drawback of these materials has been manufacturing cost, which remains significantly above silicon devices. Production costs are coming down though, and will fall further as volumes ramp up. For high power management applications, such as electric vehicles (EVs), silicon carbide is likely to be the most viable material and can reduce power losses in the inverter by 70-80%. The example below illustrates how the overall costs including power savings available to the consumer, are now beginning to make these devices viable in EVs.
Comparison of silicon and silicon carbide transistors for EV power management
Source: Power America, CLSA research, March 2018
Virtually all industry participants expect an eventual shift towards wide band gap materials, and are investing heavily in the research and development, or acquisitions, necessary to position themselves for the transition. As a result, fast growth is expected for silicon carbide devices, with compound growth of over 30% in the next 5 years.
Silicon Carbide device market size estimates, by application
Source: Yole, CLSA Research, March 2018