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    Low Power Electronics – Pushing boundaries to make products more efficient

    In today’s electronics sector, reducing electronic system power consumption may be an important goal, but product performance, reliability, and cost cannot be ignored. Lower power levels can cause reduced performance, such as increased output noise, degraded stability, low-frequency EMI and ripple. The general industry trend is to make electronic products more efficient and, in general, consume less energy. One of the major considerations is to minimize the standby power of electronic circuits. This trend would seem to be commendable when viewed as an effort to be more conscious of our environment. The constant demand for smaller, smarter electronics with longer battery life also dictates higher efficiency and lower standby power.

    In low power systems, it is often desired to eliminate harmonic content found in line currents. VSIs can be used as active power filters to provide this compensation. Based on measured line currents and voltages, a control system determines to reference current signals for each phase. This is fed back through an outer loop and subtracted from actual current signals to create current signals for an inner loop to the inverter. These signals then cause the inverter to generate output currents that compensate for the harmonic content. This configuration is also catalyzed by low power electronics and consumer application, as it is fully fed by the line to improve the overall power factor. Low power technology is impacting our society by creating the newly emerging digital consumer market, which leads to a nomadic lifestyle.

    Low Power Electronics and converters made a head start when the first device, the Silicon Controlled Rectifier was proposed. It is the technology associated with the efficient conversion, control and conditioning of electric power by static means from its available input form into the desired electrical output form. In general, inverters are utilized in applications requiring direct conversion of electrical energy from DC to AC or indirect conversion from AC to AC. DC to AC conversion is useful for many fields, including power conditioning, harmonic compensation, motor drives, and renewable energy grid-integration.

    The rapid advancement of semiconductor, personal computing, and mobile communications technology during the last few decades has been transforming lifestyle into a “digital lifestyle”, in which one can create, share, and enjoy multimedia information in a personalized virtual space in a mobile environment. There are, in general, three key enabling factors to realize the future digital lifestyle: easily accessible multimedia contents for diversified user applications, communication and information infrastructure to support such access from the user, and intelligent user devices to deliver such digital contents in a user-friendly manner.

    In facilities that require energy at all times, such as hospitals and airports, Power electronics systems are utilized. In a standby system, an inverter is brought online when the normally supplying grid is interrupted. Power is instantaneously drawn from onsite batteries and converted into usable AC. In an online UPS system, a rectifier-dc-link-converter is used to protect the load from transients and harmonic content. A battery in parallel with the DC-link is kept fully charged by the output in case the grid power is interrupted, while the output of the inverter is fed through a low pass filter to the load. High power quality and independence from disturbances are achieved.

    Further, the technology application has increased, owing to the emergence of semiconductor devices and microprocessors. Moreover, the development and use of wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor devices are expected to result in a breakthrough in the power electronics industry. This can be attributed to the use of superior materials such as SiC, and GaN, among others that allow devices to operate at high speeds, voltage, and temperature. The deployment of low power electronic technology in the renewable energy sector is also supporting the growth of the power electronics market. The penetration of power electronic devices in utility applications and the rising demand for higher power density in electronics are the key factors driving the market growth and will always increase as the need for power is not perishable.

    The growing industrial need for creating, accessing, storing, processing, and communicating information is driven by modern business functions and by the growing demands of consumers for data acquisition, processing, and entertainment. The trend originated with the advent of the electronic calculator, the personal computer, and microprocessor-driven games. Although at first stationary electronics systems were used, the industry has moved toward mobile systems, which require lightweight portable energy sources and equipment.

    Portable commercial and personal communications and data processing have evolved from crude hand-held instruments and bulky laptop computers to miniaturized cellular telephones and pagers, powerful notebook computers, portable global locating/positioning systems, and numerous entertainment systems. The growing demand for computing, along with declining costs, has led to faster, smaller, more reliable integrated circuits that require less power. The technology accompanying these advances can be incorporated into the soldier’s electronics systems to make them more functional and to reduce power requirements.

    Newly emerging digital consumer market

    Low power technology is impacting our society by creating the newly emerging digital consumer market, which leads to a nomadic lifestyle. It is suggested that robotics will provide the major challenge for low power electronics in the coming decades. Power consumption is one of the most critical issues when designing low-cost electronic devices, such as sensing nodes in wireless sensor networks. To support their operation, such systems usually contain a battery; however, when the battery has consumed all its energy, the node (e.g. the sensor) must be retrieved and the battery replaced.

    If the node is located in a remote and non-accessible placement, battery replacement can become an expensive (and even impossible) task. This way, energy harvesting has emerged as a suitable alternative to supply low-power electronic systems, by converting ambient energy into electric power. Scavenged energy can be used to directly supply the circuits, or stored to be used when needed. The future of low power processors will see a continued increase in size and power. A feature that will only be met by continued growth in the number of cores within the processor.

    Mobile Computing: Mobile Computing is the other most emerging technology favouring low power electronics today. Portable products such as smartphones, personal audio equipment, and laptop computers are being used increasingly. Because these applications are battery-powered, reducing power consumption is vital.

    Wireless communication: Another important and most discussed element today is the embedded combination of low power electronics for wireless communication. The future of wireless communication is seemingly beyond imagination, whereby using an integrated system of low-orbit satellites, individuals will have access to a very large database of information, communication, and computation anywhere on the globe. With IoT, connectivity will continue to evolve to address the needs of various new use cases. With rapidly developing technologies such as LPWAN, the question of enhanced security is naturally raised.

    IoT market: Low power electronics will capture a significant part of the IoT market with low-cost devices and low-cost infrastructure. The more mobile devices that are connected and new requirements are needed, the more technologies become available. One such relative newcomer is LPWAN (low-power wide-area network), a technology that complements the existing ones and also enables completely new applications.

    There is no doubt that these low-power networks will play an important role in the future because of several advantages. They build, for instance, on the idea of connecting low-cost sensors over long distances in harsh environments or deep indoor penetration for smart meters.

    The number of integrated transistors has increased so rapidly that it has become evident that a further increase in performance is limited by the power dissipation. The future IT and electronics, therefore, require more efficient power-reduction solutions. In the human brain and nerve system, analogue signals from sensing orgasms are processed by a network composed of neurons and synapses. This process is slow but very power-efficient because it is done by below-100 mV signal levels. Although the near-threshold or sub-threshold operation of digital CMOS circuits would be possible candidates for future low-power electronics, the operating voltage was not scaled due to the fact that the sub-threshold characteristics of MOSFETs are not scalable. Various parameter variations of the MOSFETs also deteriorate the noise margin. Most of the existing non-volatile memories and switches have problems in operating at low voltages. It is evident that off-chip interface circuits, power delivery and control-means, such as back-bias, and the protection devices against electrostatic discharge, also need to be integrated. If the power of the chip is greatly reduced, stacked-chip 3D integration could be an efficient solution in the future IT and electronics.

    By: Mannu Mathew | Sub Editor | ELE Times
    Mannu Mathew
    Mannu Mathew
    An engineer and a journalist, working, researching, and analyzing about the technology sphere from all possible vector, Currently working as a Sub-editor / Technology Correspondent at ELE Times

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