Power electronics is the branch of electrical engineering that deals with the processing of high voltages and currents to deliver power that supports a variety of needs. From household electronics to equipment in space applications, these areas all need stable and reliable electric power with the desired specifications. Power supply in one form is processed using power semiconductor switches and control mechanisms to another form, supplying a regulated and controlled power. Power electronics play an important role in electrified vehicle applications that provide compact and high-efficient solutions to power conversion.
Power electronic systems are used in a variety of applications, such as: Power Generation, Power Transmission, Power Distribution, and Power Control. In power generation, especially in renewable energy, the generated power must be processed to meet the AC voltage specification of the power grid. For instance, a solar cell generates DC power whose output power varies with the operating voltage and incident solar irradiation. It is important to extract the maximum power available at the output of the cell and transfer it to the grid with the highest possible efficiency. So, the interface that connects the solar cell to the grid should provide AC power that matches the grid specifications and draws input power that operates the solar cell at its maximum power point. In addition to this, the conversion of this DC power to AC power should be with higher efficiency to minimize the losses in power generation. This is possible using power semiconductor devices with advanced control mechanisms that monitor the output and input parameters and control the switches.
In aerospace applications, especially in space applications, size, weight, and reliability are critical parameters. If power is handled at low frequencies, the transformers and other energy storage elements occupy a huge amount of space. With switching converters that work at high switching frequencies, the size of the energy storage elements is drastically reduced. The size of these components is inversely proportional to the switching frequency. So, devices with shorter switching times help to reduce the overall size and weight of systems.
State-of-the-art power electronic systems are capable of handling power from a few watts to several megawatts, enabling efficient and reliable interfaces between raw power and regulated power. As a result, hydraulic and mechanical actuators are being replaced with electric motors that can be controlled precisely using power electronic interfaces.
The benefits of power electronics are:
- High power density power supplies
- Improved efficiency of up to 99% in power conversion
- Noise-sensitive applications such as in medical devices are also transitioning to switching power supplies because of the efficiency and reliability
- Power can be made available in the desired form and level as per specifications
- Increased clean power generation using power electronic interfaces to connect the sources to grid
- Wireless power transfer
Power Electronics Devices
Power electronics is a circuitry device that transfers power from a source to a load in an efficient, compact, and robust manner to ensure convenient utilization. This device is used to control the conversion of electric power from one form to another using diodes, transistors, and thyristors. Operations at high voltage or high current can be efficiently executed by utilizing power electronics devices, as they exhibit a faster switching rate at higher efficiency. Moreover, power electronics control both unidirectional as well as the bidirectional flow of energy, depending upon the usage, and the regenerated energy can be sent back for utility. Power electronics devices are expected to serve as the future key technologies, which help to increase system efficiency and performance in automotive and energy-saving applications.
The primary element in a power electronic system is a switching power converter. The power converter consists of power semiconductor devices that are turned on and off at high frequencies. This operation switches the voltage and current through the devices, delivering a controlled power at the output. In addition to this, the power drawn from the input can also be controlled. An ideal device switches the voltage and current instantaneously and offers zero resistance once turned on and infinite resistance when turned off. But in the real world, no device can be switched instantaneously. The switching converters are associated with two types of power losses in the devices:
- Switching Losses
- Conduction Losses
While switched-mode power supplies are a common application of power electronics where power density, reliability, and efficiency are of prime importance, motor control is gearing up with more electrification in transportation systems. Precise control and efficiency are key characteristics for power control applications. The study of power electronics is thus multidisciplinary, involving semiconductor physics, electrical motors, mechanical actuators, electromagnetic devices, control systems, and so on. In all these applications, the input voltages and currents are switched using power semiconductor devices to provide desired outputs.
Power electronics market based on devices is classified into BJT, IGBT, MOSFET, power diode and thyristor. The IGBT devices dominate the industry and are likely to continue the trend over the forecast period. These devices are widely used across the industry due to the features such as enhanced efficiency, faster switching, minimal power loss and ease of usage at high voltages. In addition, increased requirement for power electronics devices is likely to offer several opportunities to the players operating in the power electronics market, according to report by Global Market Insights.
The construction of basic semiconductor devices such as diodes, FETs, and bipolar junction transistors (BJTs) are altered to withstand high voltages and currents. As a result, we have silicon-controlled thyristors (SCRs), power diodes, power metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETs), power BJTs, insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), gate turn-off thyristors (GTOs), and so on. The device selection is based on the power levels, the switching frequency requirements, efficiency, and the nature of inputs and outputs. For instance, in an EV powertrain, the power handled is of the order of kW. In such applications, power MOSFETs which can withstand the high voltage and switch at higher frequencies are commonly used. In the case of power transmission, where the handled power is of the order of few megawatts, silicon-controlled rectifiers (SCRs) are used.
Components that support the overall power electronics systems, including capacitors, magnetic components, and packaging technologies are being pushed to match the new semiconductor performance levels, which in turn is creating market conundrums that are hampering growth of advanced semiconductors.
Current capacitor technologies struggle to match the high temperature performance needs, as existing capacitor technologies are limited by the properties of the dielectric used. Consequently, this presents a global innovation whitespace for the discovery and development of materials that exhibit the desired properties with reliability and durability that can meet a variety of applications.
Ferrites are the dominant form of soft magnetics used in power electronics systems today, primarily due to their low cost. However, they are bulky and reducing their size requires higher frequency operation, which causes high losses. Amorphous alloys and nanocrystalline materials are being explored as potential solutions to this issue, but none of the materials developed exhibit the desired performance characteristics at a competitive cost yet.
Electric power is scarce, and it is of prime importance to deliver the power to the loads with minimum losses. Advancements in power semiconductor research has resulted in more efficient chemistries such as silicon carbide and gallium nitride.
Advancements in power semiconductor devices have paved the path for newer devices such as silicon carbide, gallium nitride field effect transistors (FETs), and power diodes. These devices have superior characteristics in terms of wide band gap that allows for high-voltage operation, thermal management, and efficiency. This has resulted in widespread usage of power electronics even in noise-sensitive areas, replacing the lossy linear power supplies and voltage regulators. The main advantage of these devices is that they can withstand high voltage when compared to the silicon devices. Thus, the systems can be designed with high-voltage capabilities, which, in turn, reduces the current and improves efficiency, for the same power to be delivered. In addition to this, operating the devices at higher switching frequencies helps in reducing the size of passive components, making the systems compact. The ability to handle higher temperatures simplifies thermal designs.
Wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor devices
Development of wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor devices is a major component of the global innovation race in power electronics. WBG semiconductor devices, especially SiC and GaN-on-Si devices, are beginning to penetrate the market, although Si devices continue to dominate the industry.
The U.S. WBG semiconductor device manufacturing supply chain is more developed in SiC device technology, while GaN-on-Si devices tend to be manufactured in Asian foundries, leveraging the massive silicon device foundry infrastructure there.
In addition, next-generation WBG semiconductors like bulk GaN and so-called ultra-wide bandgap (UWBG) semiconductors like gallium oxide (Ga2O3), aluminum gallium nitride (AlGaN) and diamond are in aggressive development as they promise additional performance advantages over SiC and GaN-on-Si.
New packaging techniques and materials are being developed to improve the performance of power electronics systems at high temperatures with improved reliability over many thermal cycles. These innovations focus on two critical areas of packaging, the die attach and the interconnection. In order to ensure reliability at higher temperature, new die attach techniques and materials are under development, including Silver-Tin alloy soldering, silver sintering, and embedded packaging. Current interconnection methods are also prone to failure and lose reliability at higher temperatures. New interconnection techniques are under development, including ribbon bonding, ball bonding, and embedded packaging.
US Power Electronics Technology and Manufacturing Roadmap
US Power Electronics Industry Collaborative (PEIC) has released US Power Electronics Technology and Manufacturing Roadmap. The report’s lead authors are Keith Evans, president of PEIC, and Dave Hurst, formerly a market analysis expert at NextEnergy.
“Recent advances in power semiconductor technology, particularly in wide bandgap materials, have opened up significant new opportunities for the U.S. power electronics industry, along with corresponding challenges,” said Keith Evans, PEIC president, in a statement. “The goal of PEIC’s participation in creating the report was to identify those technology and manufacturing challenges, and to present key strategic recommendations for the U.S. to develop effective solutions to meet the growing demands for efficient power electronics.”
“To meet these demands at scale, several technological and manufacturing challenges need to be overcome. This roadmap provides an overview of these challenges, the current state of the art, and emerging solutions to achieve these benefits. Emphasis is placed on understanding trends including inter-dependencies in semiconductors, capacitors, magnetics, and packaging technology. Using this information, this roadmap also presents key strategic recommendations for the U.S. to take advantage of these technological trends.”
Semiconductors are just one part of the overall power electronics system. While WBG and UWBG semiconductors are capable of operating at higher voltages and temperatures, today’s capacitors are not. Similarly, while WBG semiconductors are capable of operating at higher frequencies, today’s soft magnetics are not. Additionally, advances in packaging and thermal management are required before WBG semiconductors can be fully leveraged. The implication of improved semiconductor performance has ripple effects throughout the supply chain for power electronics.
While the need for innovation in semiconductors and passive components are two of the biggest challenges faced by the U.S. power electronics industry, the report also cites other roadblocks including a lack of strong power engineering talent, competition from overseas manufacturers, cost pressures, and a need for manufacturing innovation.
The global power electronics market size was valued at $26.6 billion in 2021, and is projected to reach $43.7 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 5.1% from 2022 to 2031. The major factors driving the growth of the power electronics market include increasing demand for energy-efficient battery-powered portable devices, rising trend of energy harvesting technologies, enhancement of power infrastructure, and the growing focus toward using renewable power sources.
Power module, also known as power electronic module, offers physical containment for several power components, usually power semiconductor devices. As compared to discrete power, the power packages offer higher power density and are more reliable in many cases. Power MOSFET is an acronym for metal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor and can be defined as a power semiconductor that is used as an electronic switch device to control the loads as per requirement. Power devices can attain extremely low resistance and high-frequency switching. These properties are exploited in high-efficiency power supplies, electric vehicles (EVs), hybrid electric vehicles
(HEVs), photovoltaic inverters, and RF switching. In addition, these devices are applicable in power supplies for servers, IT equipment, high efficiency & stable power supplies, and EV & HEV devices.
Factors such as an increase in demand for power electronics across various industry verticals, due to the growth of power electronics is driven by its increase in usage in several applications such as industrial motor drives, electric grid stabilization, and consumer electronics. The need for power management devices has increased across various industries such as automotive, consumer electronics, and energy & power owing to the aggrandized use of high voltage operating devices; and the rise in the adoption of power electronics components in electric vehicles. Moreover, the surge in demand for SiC-based photovoltaic cells in the developing countries, including China, Brazil, and India fuels the growth of the global market.
According to report, the recent advances in power semiconductor technology have opened up new opportunities for innovation in power electronics. Market and regulatory conditions have created global demand for power electronics systems that take advantage of new semiconductor technologies to enable higher-efficiency devices that operate at higher temperatures, higher frequencies, and higher voltages in smaller packages and lower overall system cost.
However, one of the major restraints is the complex integration process for advanced electronics devices. Designing of complex devices requires robust methodology, skillsets, and different toolsets for integration, which also raises the cost of the devices. This high cost of devices restraints users to switch to new innovative technology devices. On the contrary, the rise in demand for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and innovation in power metal-oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) is anticipated to provide lucrative opportunities for the expansion of the power electronics market share during the forecast period.
Rising demand for high power density in various applications is a major driver in the power electronics market. This demand is attributed by the various benefits offered by them such as less driving factor and simplified circuits which helps them to run at high power ranges. Design of compact power electronics are the best choice to use in high power density products. Among all the different types of power devices including thyristors, MOSFETs, IGBTs and power ICs, IGBTs made the greatest progress, with around 8% growth.
Usage of these devices in power systems helps in providing high flexibility, reliability and security which in turn helps ensure effective and continuous delivery of power. These devices play an important role in the adaptation of advanced networks and enhancement of power infrastructure instead of the current electrical grids. Growing demand for network reliability, increasing incorporation of power electronics in electrical grids, judicious use of energy and emphasis on reduction of biological pollution from the government are anticipated to propel the power electronics market growth over the forecast period.
Silicon expected to have the largest market size
The power electronics market based on materials can be classified into silicon (Si), silicon carbide (SiC), gallium nitride (GaN) and sapphire. The major application of the solution would be in electric vehicles by using GaN semiconductor to replace electronics based on silicon, which are used as battery chargers and inverters. GaN semiconductors convert the battery power to help drive the electric cars. Silicon based electronic devices are used to restrain the power which limits the power handling capacity of the car.
Silicon accounted for the largest share of the power electronics market based on material segment. The growth of this market can be attributed to the applicability of silicon in various power electronics devices and products.
The GaN semiconductors are cost affordable, easy to drive and improve the output power of electric cars, making them energy efficient and lighter. Owing to these factors, the demand for GaN based semiconductors devices is increasing thus indirectly boosting the power electronics market. Presently, the U.S. is a leading consumer for electric cars. This is owing to strict emission rules made by the government in the region.
Besides WBG devices, many other innovations are also emerging, as in power module packaging. Needs for higher power density and more highly integrated products have made some traditional technologies and materials outdated. Package evolution is responding to stricter requirements at the system level, and as ever here the automotive industry is driving innovation and growth.
Power IC market to grow at the highest rate during the forecast period
The power electronics market for IC based on device type segment is expected to grow at the highest rate during the forecast period. Increasing application of power ICs in radio frequency (RF), high-frequency wireless communication, radio detection and ranging (RADAR), satellite communication, electronic warfare, radio communication, and microwave radiation fields is expected to drive the growth of this market.
Automotive vertical in power electronics to grow at the highest rate during the forecast period
The power electronics market for automotive based on vertical is expected to grow at the highest rate. This high market growth rate can be attributed to the increasing adoption of energy efficient hybrid electronic cars because of the increasing concern over environmental pollution and saving energy.
APAC expected to hold the largest share of the power electronics market during the forecast period
Asia-Pacific (APAC) is expected to hold the largest share of the power electronics market during 2016–2022. The high growth of this market can be attributed to the emergence of APAC as a strong manufacturing hub with leading manufacturers of consumer goods increasing their manufacturing activities in this region. Cost advantages and initiatives by different countries in this region are expected to boost the domestic manufacturing and provide further impetus for the growth of the power electronics market.
Moreover, the power electronics market growth in the region is accredited to the increase in power transmission, use of renewable energy and growing use of power electronics across the industrial sector. Technological developments in electronics, inverters, and UPS is boosting the regional power electronics market growth.
The report also profiles the most promising players in the power electronics market. The competitive landscape of this market presents an interesting picture where a large number of big and small players have become a force to reckon with. The key players in this market are Infineon Technologies AG (Germany), Texas Instruments, Inc. (U.S.), ON Semiconductor Corp. (U.S.), STMicroelectronics N.V. (Switzerland), Maxim Integrated Products, Inc. (U.S.), Fuji Electric Co., Ltd. (Japan), NXP Semiconductors N.V. (The Netherland), Qualcomm, Inc. (U.S), Vishay Intertechnology, Inc. (U.S.), Renesas Electronics Corp. (Japan), and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (Japan).
References and Resources also include: