The expanding role of the electronics industry in the energy sector

Nelson, Brent
(Manager of Engineering and Informatics for the Materials and Chemicals Science and Technology directorate of NREL)

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As the energy sector grows and becomes more diverse, the need for more controls, sensors, communications, and data handling also increases. Across the entire energy cycle, from production to distribution to end use, the electronic content in products is increasing. There has been a sharp rise in the number of energy production nodes for both for fossil fuel production where an increasing number of wells are required to meet demand and especially for renewable technologies that are highly distributed. Efficiency is a key driver as reducing losses makes a given technology both more profitable and less polluting. The ability to more efficiently extract energy out of a given production node relies on at-the-source intelligence provided by a broad spectrum of electronic devices. This especially true for renewable electricity generating technologies like wind and solar with a large number of integrated devices. In fact, the active materials in photovoltaics are very similar to those used in the semiconductor industry and are themselves an electronic device. The delivery of extracted energy resources to be processed, or to end users, also is seeing an increased focus on efficiency, safety, and environmental protection all facilitated by the growth of electronic content in all delivery vehicle types. This pails in number to the increase in electronic content in the consumer products such as automobiles and smart devices where reducing energy consumption and increasing safety is becoming increasingly important to the consumer. Smart consumer electronics will rely on a smart grid that will have exponentially more sensors, communications, and data to interpret in the coming years in order to both reduce energy use for the consumer as well as allow the consumer to buy energy at the most affordable prices. This talk will provide a high-level overview of how energy is produced, transformed, distributed and used, providing examples of where electronic devices are playing increased roles.

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