Tom Griffiths, Marketing Manager, Sensor Driven Lighting, ams AG’s Emerging Sensor Solutions group

While there are a number of specific technology elements that will enjoy continued leaps forward on both the micro- or macro-scale, ranging from more intelligent power management IC’s to breakthroughs in HVAC systems, the highest impact smart energy technology will more overarching. The winner will be sensor-driven predictive systems solutions. As we contemplate the scope of what we really mean by “Internet of Things”, we quickly point to the cloud, big-data aggregation, and near-universal connectivity. Rounding that out will be a separate internet of connected awareness that will feed that aggregation. As that cloud “connects the dots” with regard to individual or group behaviors, we’ll quickly find that the IoT is able to fairly accurately predict how most individuals will interact with the spaces they occupy. We expect that for most of our built spaces, our lighting will serve as the IoT sensor hub to deliver the sensor-driven data that will create this mass “awareness” (lights are ubiquitous, have power, and a great view of the occupied space). The sensor-driven data that will flow from those IoT connected smart lighting systems will determine a new normal, where most people enjoy X amount of light and Y amount of heat when they wake up, and only spend Z amount of time, on average, in spaces such as A, B and C. As the data becomes more personalized, the information will tell us that if the someone takes a right turn out of the bedroom, they’ll be out of the space for the rest of the day and heading off to work, where the systems have learned they need 20 percent less light than most of their officemates. These “cognitive” systems will start from more optimized default assumptions (thanks to big data) and rapidly learn the preferences of the individual users.

Brett Burger, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Smart Grid Systems at NI
When looking for the most impactful energy technology there is a plethora from which to select. Software startups, research institutions, billion dollar global corporations and one-person engineering shops are all doing great work to help solve the energy problems we face today. Because of this, we have a variety of solar generation technologies, huge wind-turbines that are getting
more efficient, automated demand response to lower peak energy, new energy storage technology, various communication protocols, smarter meters, software to serve information from mountains of data ... and the list goes on. All of these technologies will continue to play a big role in the future of energy, but the technology that will make the biggest impact in the future is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology that will help bring them all together for the grid operators. The grid is not going to be redesigned around a single new technology. That would be expensive and reduce innovation. The most impactful solution will be a nimble and flexible network of measurement, processing and communication nodes throughout the grid; an updated “nervous system” for the next generation smart grid. Microgrids are a good, scaled down example of IIoT technology as they often incorporate multiple energy technologies such as distributed renewables, storage
and a fueled generator. This mix of dynamic generation with storage requires more data and faster control to operate than the standard hub/spoke generation model. Connecting these
technologies, which are likely not all from the same company, is where the IIoT comes in with an overarching solution to merge measurements, control and connectivity. By bringing new technologies and grid operators together, the IIoT will help improve grid operation while continuing to foster new innovation from scientists and engineers with domain expertise.

Randall Restle, Director, Applications Engineering, Digi-Key Corporation
Gallium nitride (GaN) power transistors driven by intelligent drivers and controllers will have a big impact on energy reduction and improved energy efficiency. This is because GaN transistors have very low RDSON which give them best-in-class current densities.  Due in part to surface mode conduction, these devices have very large current carrying capability enabling them to drive large loads from very small electronic packages.  But carrying current is only part of the story. The load is the other. Delivering only the current the load needs, and not more, means there is less waste and energy loss in the load itself.  Stepper motors that are stationary and without disturbance from the load need no energy at all to hold their position. Overdriving these motors when it’s not needed is energy lost in the motor and the load connected to it.  It is easily felt by placing your hand on the powered stepper motor.  Adapting to the load is the job of the driver or controller or sometimes both when they are integrated into a chip.  Sensing load characteristics and adjusting drive strength on the fly means only delivering the energy the load requires. Drives that do not make these dynamic adjustments result in loads that make more noise due to mechanical vibration and oscillation, get unnecessarily hot, and otherwise wear faster than is necessary. Addressing this, in turn, means higher efficiency, higher performance, and faster end-products – more output from less input.  Two suppliers offering these technologies through Digi-Key are Efficient Power Conversion (EPC) (eGaN devices) and Trinamic (smart drivers).

Robert Nalesnik, Vice President of Marketing, Qnovo Corporation
Mobile devices, be they smartphones or electric vehicles, are severely constrained by limitations imposed by battery technology. To date, the primary tool to extend battery performance has been battery materials, which improves volumetric energy at a snail’s pace - just an historic 4% per year. But new technology is emerging that enables batteries to do more, by improving battery performance utilizing existing computational power that already resides in the product.

Using inexpensive electronics to improve basic physical processes is not new. Modern combustion engines depend completely on sensors and computation to function efficiently to modern standards. These systems operate in an adaptive closed-loop fashion, by first measuring relevant parameters, making real-time decisions and optimizing results.

The same concept can be applied to get more out of battery technology. The majority of damage to a mobile battery occurs during charging rather than use. These new battery management technologies apply intelligence to the charging system to increase the battery’s performance envelope. By applying software-based adaptive charging algorithms, the battery can be monitored in real-time and the charging process continuously adjusted to minimize cell damage. Less damage equates to more capacity or use time, faster charging and longer battery lifetime.

Mobility is pushing batteries to their limits, yet today’s lithium-ion batteries are charged as lead-acid batteries were a century ago. Adaptive charging changes the equation and enables batteries to both charge faster and last longer. Driven by the requirements of smartphones and electric vehicles, expect to see adaptive charging as a cornerstone of the battery of the future.

Cliff Ortmeyer, Global Head of Solutions Development for Newark element14
Smart energy technology has always had the potential to greatly impact the future, but is perhaps just now beginning to receive the attention it deserves from mainstream consumers. In a recent element14 study, 56 percent of the 3,500 respondents identified renewable energy as a top priority for tech and innovation in the coming years.

As far as the biggest impact is concerned, I believe that semiconductor device technology coupled with advances in energy storage will win out – with ultra low power usage semiconductor devices coupled with energy harvesting devices and systems having the greatest impact.From the ultra low power usage side, this can already be seen in RFID devices. It used to be that RFID tags would capture only enough energy to power an ID transmission back to the RFID reader. Ultra low power technologies now enable these passive tags to store enough energy to power more advanced low power circuits and devices like microcontrollers and other analog components.This method of course assumes that you have access to a continuous or stable power source.

The other key enabler is the devices that harvest energy from ambient energy sources.These will be critical as a huge part of the enablement of IoT will come from millions/ billions of “things” that will need to be powered without the need to continuously change their energy source. While capturing energy from existing primary sources is nothing new (just look at my Prius’s regenerative braking system, for example), the same ideas apply albeit at a much smaller, device-level system. The main types of energy conversion devices I believe that are and will come to market are from radiant (solar being primary), mechanical or vibration, and thermoelectric (generating power from heat). While solar and vibration-based energy conversion are areas that are already well established, both will continue to evolve. One example of this evolution is miniature devices like MEMS sensors using their internal structures to detect motion, but also using the same internal mechanics to harvest and provide energy.

Jungik Suh, Energy and Automotive Marketing Manager, Keysight Technologies, Inc. 
Efficient and reliable power conversion technologies will make the biggest impact on future Smart Energies. Power Converters will be utilized in many different places, including balancing, linking, and electric vehicles, and so efficient power converters will have a broad impact on the overall efficient deployment of Smart Energy. Various types of Smart Energies, including solar, wind, hydroelectric and hydrokinetic energies, have their own pros and cons although they all aim to reduce global warming emissions, to improve the environment, to provide the energy stability, and to reduce the overall cost of energy. One of the most common limitations of Smart Energy is a mismatch of the timing between the generation and the demand of the renewable energies. Since renewable energies are coming from nature, they are dependent on the weather and the environment (e.g, accessibility to sunlight, fluctuations of strength of the wind). To address these limitations, the industry is evolving to link two or more renewable energies to cooperate, and the generated renewable energies from various sources in different geographies need to have bi-directional flow to balance of gaps between the energy generation and demand. For these balancing methods, power conversion utilizing advanced technologies of power semiconductor and converters will play the most critical roles. For example, Norway and Denmark recently linked their renewable hydroelectric and wind powers in the region’s electricity grid.  In addition, the efficiency and reliability of the power conversion, including solar, wind and hydroelectric inverters, DC distribution and grid storage already already impact Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), which means the players in the energy industry will keep improving the power converting technologies to enhance the efficiency and reliability for business purposes as well. The importance of future power conversion is shown in the automotive industry, which proactively aims to reduce fossil based energy since the success of the Electronic Vehicles (EVs) will significantly rely on the efficient and reliable power conversions in vehicles, including inverters and motor drives, DC-to-DC converters, on-board chargers, and equipment at charging stations.

Karim Wassef, General Manager, Embedded Power, GE’s Critical Power Business
A technology’s greatest impact comes from the ability to create value for its largest and fastest growing consumers. Energy consumption is moving through a number of critical pivots that can be categorized into two groups—better energy use and smarter energy use. Better energy use is achieving the desired benefit with reduced energy consumption. For example, LEDs are exponentially more efficient than other light sources and their widespread use is expected to deliver significant energy savings with substantial impact. The same can be said for more efficient energy generation through localized renewables. Between the source and load, the efficiency of power delivery infrastructure can be improved with higher voltage DC distribution. All these technologies will have a big impact.

The highest impact, however, will come from the optimization of power assets into a scalable infrastructure that delivers the energy when and where it’s needed. This means minimizing the idle time for power infrastructure to increase throughput of services. Today, high redundancy in power infrastructure is necessary due to the lack of intelligent connectivity. However, the ability to link sources and loads with a high-efficiency distribution architecture that can channel the output of the available power assets where they are needed will have the greatest impact. Compare this to cloud computing vs. personal computing. Cloud computing creates the highest value from IT assets because it parses the computing capability to the consumers who need it when and where they need it. They only pay for what they need—without the loss of idle equipment running a fraction of the time.

Now imagine a connected power grid where localized renewables, grid and spot generation are linked to the largest power consumers—like factories, data centers and businesses—with an intelligent grid that measures need and availability and matches the lowest cost energy with the need. This ‘cloud power’ requires significant technology investment in management and power architecture to bus the needed energy and optimize the full system performance. This can be as granular as a single voltage rail on a computing board running in a rack inside a data center, or as macro as an interconnected city that measures consumption in time and location and optimizes delivery. This will require standardization and collaboration across technologies and infrastructure, but its cost benefits and scalability will drive the biggest impact for our future.

Elly Schietse, Marcom GreenPeak Technologies,
Today almost everything in the home can be “smart”, as long as it is internet enabled and connected. However to be really smart, not only should the devices collect data, they should be able to act on it.

Many consider technologically-enhanced everyday household items as smart. Yes, it is interesting to be able to switch off lights with an app, or to know how much electricity your refrigerator uses, but it becomes truly useful, fascinating and “smart” when all these household items are inter-connected and then, by using algorithms and ambient technology, are able to not only monitor our energy use, but also  to provide guidance regarding their use to utilize the energy consumption levels throughout the house.

For example, it is very intelligent when my smart lawn sprinklers are linked to which provides the system the information that rain is on the way, and then over-riding the scheduled activation of the lawn watering system – even if it senses that the grass is a bit dried out.  The system should be smart enough to also close the windows on that side of the house so that water does not get in.

Those same window sensors could close the windows when I turn on the air conditioning or the heating. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your house knew which rooms were occupied and could turn on the air conditioning only in those rooms – not wasting energy by blowing cold air into rooms that were empty and unused?

You can begin to imagine what life could look like when homes are nearly 100% quantified and optimized and when simple, intelligent house rules are automated. From window shades closing, lights turning off and heating turning down, our relationship with our home and surroundings will be completely different.

Smart devices will have a huge impact on our lives and allow our homes and our lifestyles to be more self-regulated and monitored, and at the same time, optimized and energy efficient.

Paul Kierstead, Director of Marketing, Cree, Inc.
The power electronics industry is poised for a revolution in energy efficiency, largely fueled by the advent of wide bandgap power semiconductors as a replacement for silicon power devices. Silicon carbide (SiC) power devices, particularly in the higher voltage range of 1200V to 1700V, have reached important adoption thresholds for power conversion systems in server and telecom power supplies, solar inverters, electric vehicle chargers, industrial automation, medical electronics, and motor drives.

This growing adoption of silicon carbide power devices is resulting in power conversion systems that are smaller, lighter, more efficient, and less expensive — in other words, better. The inherent characteristics of silicon carbide enable systems using these devices to operate at frequencies more than six times greater than similarly-rated silicon devices. This higher frequency operation enables the design of power systems with significantly smaller capacitor and magnetic components, as well as higher energy efficiency and improved thermal performance.

In the near future, as the portfolio of available SiC power semiconductors expands to include new lower voltage MOSFETs, silicon carbide will enable this type of enhanced performance in even more applications. Lower voltage devices will expand SiC advantages into power supplies from hundreds of watts to a few kilowatts, as well as to single phase solar inverters. These new devices will also enable the design of compact and efficient drive train inverters, on-board chargers, and grid-tied charging systems for several types of electric vehicles (EVs), and are expected to debut as early as 2016. Providing additional momentum for this technology, Toyota recently announced that the adoption of SiC-based power electronics would improve the efficiency of the Prius hybrid by as much as 10%.

Development work is also underway on SiC devices for higher voltage applications in rail and high voltage DC power. Multiple SiC devices suppliers have sampled MOSFET die rated at 3.3kV, which are used to develop all-SiC power modules for these types of applications. These all-SiC power modules have been evaluated by Japan’s Odakyu Electric Railway, and they anticipate energy savings of 20–36%, and size/weight reduction of as much as 80% in the main power circuitry.

Even higher voltage SiC MOSFETs, in the 10kV range, are in active development and are being evaluated to replace large, low frequency transformers with smaller, more efficient, and higher frequency solid state transformers in grid-tied solar applications. A demonstration project by the US Department of Energy using developmental 10kV MOSFETs in a solid state, transformer-less, 100kW, grid-tied solar inverter shows the potential for dramatic cost reduction in these utility-level solar installations, including higher efficiency, better reliability through reduced component count, transformer size reductions, and lower cabling costs through higher voltage transmission made possible by SiC-based designs.


Leandre Adifon, Vice President Enterprise Systems Engineering & Advanced Technology at Ingersoll Rand

 Smart Grids that seamlessly integrate various energy sources to meet demand, combined with devices that learn user profiles and tailor energy usage to individual needs will have the biggest impact in the future.  The field of energy demand management is still wide open for innovation as tools have not been fully integrated to give users the energy they need with near zero waste.  Although Variable Frequency drives have been in use for many years, they are now finding their way into new fields where the concept of “all on” or “all off” is being replaced by partial load management.

Until recently, when you turn on your system, whether it’s your air conditioning or lighting for example, you are either “all on” or “all off,” which consumes excessive energy. There is increased customization and flexibility, allowing users to choose different levels of settings depending on their energy needs at the time; however the future will see the release of devices that learn users’ habits and optimize their energy needs.  Imagine a world where all your major appliances are interconnected in the house to minimize your energy use. 

Devices and grids with energy management intelligence will empower consumers with greater knowledge of usage and provide them the ability to control their consumption and related expenses. As those new systems assimilate quickly to help consumers use only what is needed, users will be able to answer questions, such as:  What is my household energy profile? How do my appliances behave? What habits has my household developed that can be optimized with new technologies?  By addressing these questions and narrowing the knowledge gap, smart energy technology will drive optimized production and smart use of energy, improving energy efficiency and decreasing waste. While these changes to smart energy technology are progressive and depend on the maturity of technology, it is safe to say we are on our way to a more energy efficient future.