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Next-Generation Power Electronics: Reducing Energy Waste and Powering the Future

January 15, 2014 - 3:53pm


Watch the video above to learn how wide bandgap semiconductors could impact clean energy technology and our daily lives. | Video by Sarah Gerrity and Matty Greene, Energy Department

From your laptop computer to your kitchen appliances at home, most of the electronic equipment that makes our lives so convenient today relies on gadgets called power electronics.  This technology uses electronic components such as inverters and transformers to convert the electricity from your wall outlet into the right voltage and current to power each of your handy or handheld devices.  It’s also used more widely to distribute electricity throughout the power grid, to connect renewable energy systems, and to charge up electric vehicles.

But think about how warm your laptop gets after watching a video, such as this new Energy Department video. All that heat is energy going to waste, energy that somebody has to pay for.  In fact, a typical laptop loses a quarter of the energy that goes into it as waste heat.  But there’s a new technology that could change the game:  it’s called wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors.

Power electronics redesigned with wide bandgap semiconductors could cut power conversion losses – in your laptop for example – by up to 75-80%. They could shrink the size of your laptop power adapter to one-fifth the current size and cut its energy use about 20%.  From unleashing more powerful and energy-efficient laptops, cell phones and motors, to shrinking utility-scale inverters from 8,000 pound substations to the size of a suitcase, WBG semiconductors could be one of the keys to our clean energy future. 

During a visit to the North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh today, President Obama announced that NCSU will lead the Energy Department’s new manufacturing innovation institute dedicated to developing and commercializing this promising technology.  The Next Generation Power Electronics Institute supports President Obama’s effort to found a national network of up to 45 manufacturing institutes that will create skilled jobs for American workers, help train the next generation of clean energy engineers and technicians, and boost our nation’s competitiveness across the manufacturing industry.

Supporting the Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, and funded with $70 million through the Advanced Manufacturing Office, the Institute will lead to more affordable products for businesses and consumers, billions of dollars in energy savings and thousands of high-quality U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Learn all about it from the White House press release and fact sheet, this Energy Blog post, and our website