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Power Electronics

Power electronics (PE) play a critical role in transforming the current electric grid into the next-generation grid.  PE enable utilities to deliver power to their customers effectively while providing increased reliability, security, and flexibility to the electric power system. While approximately 30% of all power generation utilize PE somewhere between the point of generation and its end use today, by 2030 it is expected that up to 80% of generated electricity will utilize PE [Power Electronics for Distributed Energy Systems and Transmission and Distribution Applications, ORNL, 2005]. Increased PE integration into the electric grid provides: (1) Increased grid reliability; (2) Compelling cost savings; and (3) Large environmental benefits and energy savings. Furthermore, power electronics will enable increased productivity, complement increased renewables-to-grid integration, and empower consumers in the residential, industrial and commercial sectors.

Existing silicon-based power electronics enable conversion from DC to AC and the movement of electricity from higher voltage transmission to lower voltage distribution. However, silicon (Si)-based semiconductor technology cannot handle the power levels and switching frequencies anticipated by next generation utility applications.

PE based on wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor materials, such as silicon carbide (SiC), gallium nitride (GaN), and diamond, could increase the reliability and efficiency of the next generation electric grid. These materials are capable of routing power more quickly and handling higher voltages. A number of barriers and challenges exist in utilizing WBG semiconductor based PE to their full potential, including identifying and designing new types of devices that best exploit WBG semiconductor properties and creating cost-effective high-volume manufacturing processes for those devices. 

The Power Electronics Multi-Year Plan (April 2011) describes Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s (OE) strategy for the development of power electronics that will be able to handle the high power levels envisioned for the next generation electric grid. 

The DOE OE DE-FOA-0000461 (March 2011) was a national call seeking applications focused on developing power electronic devices with the power levels and switching frequencies required for future high-power, next generation utility applications.

Technical papers published from OE’s GaN Initiative for Grid Application (GIGA) seedling project can be found at:

Lu, B.; Saadat O. I.; Palacios ,T.High-Performance Integrated Dual-Gate AlGaN/GaN Enhancement-Mode Transistor Electron Device Letters, IEEE. Sept 2010

Lu, B.; Palacios ,T. “High Breakdown ( > 1500 V ) AlGaN/GaN HEMTs by Substrate-Transfer Technology” Electron Device Letters, IEEE. Sept 2010.

Lu, B.; Piner, E. L.; Palacios ,T. “Schottky-Drain Technology for AlGaN/GaN High-Electron Mobility Transistors” Electron Device Letters, IEEE. Apr 2010.