Silicon semiconductor-based power electronics - which control or convert electrical energy into usable power – once transformed the computing, communication, electric vehicle and energy industries and gave consumers and businesses more powerful laptops, cell phones and motors. Over the coming decade, that era will begin to come to an end. IDTechEx gave a full picture from inverters to battery management systems in a report: “Power Electronics for Electric Vehicles 2014-2024”.
Today, Wide Band Gap (WBG) semiconductors offer new opportunities to achieve unprecedented performance while using less electricity. WBG semiconductors such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) can operate at higher temperatures, have greater durability and reliability at higher voltages and frequencies and be smaller, more efficient and cost less. A WBG semiconductor-based inverter, which switches electricity from direct current to alternating current, could be four times more powerful, half the cost and one-fourth the size and weight of a traditional inverter.
Indeed, adoption of WBG semiconductors is already happening today, notably in photovoltaic power generation – solar power replacing power stations – followed by more general power grid applications. Next, WBG semiconductors will transform the plug-in EV industry - making it easier and cheaper to own an EV and/or give it longer range. They may reduce the size of a vehicle cooling system by about 60% and cut the size of a fast DC charging station (eg 60kW) to the size of a kitchen microwave.
The power conversion in future EVs will encompass such things as converting high DC voltages to lower DC voltages in fast charging, converting AC to DC in other charging, converting low voltage DC to higher voltage DC in photovoltaic and thermoelectric energy conversion in the vehicle and in photovoltaic roadside chargers, for example. The cost of the electronics and electrics in an EV will rise sharply as a consequence of this and of electrics and electronics replacing mechanics as when clutches and differentials are eliminated. In due course, we won’t say the battery is the EV but the electrics/electronics is equally or more important as a component of cost and performance.
EVs have tougher requirements on cost, size, weight and performance but they should be the largest WBG application by 2020.