Open Source: A Key Enabler for the Green Grid

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

Adoption of open-source platforms will help accelerate changes in the technology paradigm, moving us closer to the goal of a 100% green-energy transition.

In recent years, the issue of climate change has become increasingly important. By 2050, carbon dioxide emissions linked to the energy sector will have to be reduced by 70% if we are to keep the planet’s temperature from rising more than 2°C through the 21st century and beyond. Burning fossil fuels releases large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, and it’s commonly accepted that this increases the greenhouse effect and global warming. Indeed, CO2 accounts for more than 75% of man-made emissions and is the main cause of the planet’s rise in temperature. Europe has set specific objectives to roll back CO2 levels, such as enhancing the share of renewable energy use and improving energy efficiency by 20% this year.

The good news is that many freely available energy resources in the environment are waiting to be broadly deployed to offer a 100% renewable energy grid supported by open-source hardware and software solutions. The objective of an open-source energy system is to reduce total costs by cutting development costs and facilitating the interconnection between systems. Adoption of open-source platforms will help accelerate changes in the technology paradigm, moving us closer to the goal of a 100% green-energy transition.

We live on a planet that is “immersed” in untapped energy, and we are still figuring out how best to exploit it. The sun is the first energy source that comes to mind. The 4-billion-year-old star that heats and illuminates the planet and determines life cycles of all organisms on Earth is also an essentially infinite source of energy that is being harvested and transformed into usable energy through silicon-based photovoltaic panels. Then there is wind power, which is converted to electricity by turbines; geothermal energy, generated by Earth itself; and energy from biomass, generated through the decomposition of organic material.

The various forms of alternative energy products are at different stages of development. Solar technologies have been around for some time and continue to improve. Solqube (Milan, Italy) has developed a portable 3D solar system that uses dual-interface photovoltaic panels to generate 1 kW in 1 cubic meter to power closed environments. The patented panels are arranged vertically rather than horizontally, thus capturing more light and saving 80% of the space occupied by a conventional 2D solar system. And at VT Energy Innovation (Torino, Italy), the innovative FNX Project combines concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) technology with a new, patented solar-tracking concept. The aim is to install the resultant systems on rooftops to generate more energy than is possible with non-CPV systems.

Wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors such as gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) will emerge as key elements to enhance the efficiency of power supplies across industrial environments while complementing the expansion of the renewable energy market. The rapid integration of renewable energy technologies with the power grid has hastened the adoption of WBG solutions. Demand will rise for SiC-based photovoltaic inverters as developers look to leverage the significant advantages of WBG semiconductor physics. GaN and SiC also yield indirect cost savings in the form of lower failure rates for passive components, smaller solutions, and lower installation costs.

Japanese researchers conducted a study in which they evaluated the effectiveness of WBG devices in applications below 200 W. The objective was to create a photovoltaic power-generation system for mobile devices. The researchers used a maximum power point tracking (MPPT) circuit, which continuously adapted the load conditions concerning the power of the sun and the energy available. By using four FET SiC SCT3060AL FETs from ROHM Semiconductor, the device’s inverter was able to switch to 200 kHz, thus allowing a total volume and weight reduction of 35%.

The growth of cloud solutions is forcing data centers, which are the primary consumers of energy, toward new power management solutions. By reducing losses at every stage of power conversion, GaN-based devices will help increase the total harvesting of power. The energy savings potential with this single-stage architecture is vast, given the rapid expansion of computing power and data centers needed to support the cloud infrastructure.

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