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Top ten power trends for 2018 

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

1. The GaN Inflexion 

Gallium Nitride (GaN) wide bandgap technology has reached the point of mainstream adoption, prompting larger industry players to adopt it in earnest, either through internal developments or acquisitions. Startups such as eGaN, EPC and Transphorm have driven the early stages, along with specialist suppliers such as Microsemi, and are now able to show the essential reliability figures. This is driving companies such as Texas Instruments and Dialog Semiconductor into the market which will drive the widespread adoption of new power conversion topologies and higher efficiencies. This builds on the success of the other wide bandgap technology, silicon carbide (SiC), in specific high power markets such as electric vehicles. 

2. Free space wireless charging 

Wireless charging is starting to be adopted in mobile phone handsets but the takeup has been slow, limited by competing standards and the need for proximity. With the first free space wireless charging systems now receiving FCC approval in the US, devices can now be charged at a distance of up to a metre, opening up new use cases. The fact that Apple moved into this market in 2017 will further drive the interest in this area through 2018. 

3. USB-PD

With USB-C adoption increasing, now the power delivery (PD) option is allowing faster, higher current, safer charging. Coupled with smaller chargers from the GaN inflexion, power chargers will shrink in size and grow in capacity.

Next: 4-7


4. Fast charge vs high capacity batteries

Fast charging is a challenge for today’s lithium ion battery technology as the higher current prmotes the growth of dendrites and increases the risk of short circuits. A multitude of new battery technologies are under investigation with new electrolytes, anodes, cathodes and structures from solid state to flow batteries. However, there is a split between the need for higher capacity batteries that last longer, and cells that can charge in a matter of minutes. This comes down to the different use cases, and the availability of ubiquitous charging, which is why free space charging is a key trend. This balance will continue to play out over 2018 as new battery technologies and startups are launched.

5. Light weight batteries

The other factor driving battery development is weight. This is essential for transportation to get more range, and addds yet another design criteria into battery development. This is even more critical for the new generations of drones and electric aircraft currently being developed. 

6. High power charging networks

The challenge of range is also being addressed through a new generation of high power charging stations that will roll out across Europe in 2018 after several years of development and experimentation. Oil companies such as Shell and BP are now rolling out their own networks of chargers, driving volume efficiencies and supporting the moves to 450kW systems across Europe that can take as little as 30 mins to replenish a car’s batteries.     

7. Thin film solar cell sheets

Avoiding the need for batteries and charging is driving a new generation of thin film solar cells, manufactured with standard roll-to-roll process technology for low cost sheets. 2017 was the year of demonstatrations, while 2018 will see both organic thin film cells such as those from Heliatek shipping in volume and perovskite sheets from startups such as Oxford PV start mass production.  

Next: 8-10


8. Energy harvesting for wearables

Energy harvesting continues to be an area of intense interest, particularly for wearable systems. Watch out for new piezoelectric technologies to create energy from movement which, when combined with reliable, flexible batteries, can eliminate the need to charge devices around the body.

9. Data centre power management

The data centres that deliver the backend of the Internet of Things and all manner of cloud-based services are one of the largest consumers of energy on the planet. These use, and dissipate, gigawatts of power, and tackling this is a major challenge to reduce costs. Software Defined Power (SDP), detailed monitoring and analytics, load balancing and battery support are all increasingly being adopted as a result. The first systems were installed in 2017 and will roll out in volume in 2018 as datacentre managers need to boost the processing performance within the same power envolope. This same drive will see more ARM-based servers adopted in data centres to reduce the demand at the processor core. 

10. High voltage transmission

Power still needs to be moved around, and the increasing use of renewable energy sources and battery systems in both national and microgrids is driving the adoption of high voltage DC transmission line technology. These projects take many years to develop, and 2018 will see several lines over 1kV being switched on in the US, China and Europe.

All of these are technology trends, but all play a key part of the business environment. New power hardware and even software startups, especially in battery technology, will emerge in 2018 while others will be acquired, and the new technologies will create a wide range of opportunities for growth throughout the year.      

See also: Top power news in 2017


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