Semiconductors can save the planet

By 2020 there will be 7.5 billion people and most of us will be living in megacities. Seventy percent of global oil and gas reserves are in just a few countries. So said Matteo Lo Presti, a VP at ST Microelectronics at this conference this morning.

Energy generation from oil means CO2. Climate change is a fact. To address the energy demand we see three major activities – optimisation of the energy mix, efficiency increase and smart grids. 

Semiconductors are important to reduce global power consumption and for power supplies, lighting and motor control we can potentially save up to 90 percent, 80 percent and 40 percent respectively.

By scaling semiconductors to create small and dinky smart power systems and embedded power – devices that are powered by harvesting and operate at ultra low power –  ST has improved the energy efficiency of its power transistors over the last 10 years by 90 percent. Lo Presti claimed two billion of these units have shipped saving the equivalent of two nuclear reactors.

Smart systems ST is working on include MEMS, flexible ICs, harvesting and thin film batters, new materials like SiC and GaN, ultra low power technologies, 3D heteregeneous integration, better packaging and systems on a chip. Most of these should really go in one package so addressing the complete application.

Smart grids

Replacing incandescent bulbs reduces CO2 emissions by 15 million tons a year, and saves money in a house, saving the EU 40 billion kWh a year, he said, quoting EIA energy outlook 2010 as a source.

LED will be the next stage in lighting and is more efficient and offers better performance.  Using smart systems for appliances, lighting, and air conditioning can save 27TWh/year, equivalent to four one gigawatt nuclear power plants – that’s based on an Italian study of 27 million households.

The next step is to create smart grids connecting homes, power plants, factory automation, smart street lighting and plug in hybrid electric vehicles, coupled with renewable energy grids.

Combining this to the body gateway, ST Micro is developing wearable sensors for the home area network in a so-called BodyGateWay via wireless and connected to the wider network. Sensors ST is working on include wearable ECGs, insulin nano pumps and intraocular lens to monitor for glaucoma. This is all either really, really good or really really awful, everything connected to everything else all the time.

In Europe there is strong regionalisation. What we have in France is not compatible with Spain or Italy. ST is participating in promoting standards. There is little compatibility. A good step is to define some general standardisation. There is a move from the European Commission to create macro standards.

The market is far more fragmented and controlled by utilities and in Europe we lack a utility big enough to define a standard. In Italy and France the networks must be open and not in the hands of a single provider.

There’s another problem and that’s about security and the amount of intelligence that can go into ICs.  ST Micro says security is important – it already has security protocols embedded and encryption. The need for additional security is growing, especially when personal information goes into the grid.