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2024 GaN Semiconductor Predictions

Increased Global Electrification

As the world strives to meet decarbonization goals and achieve net-zero carbon emissions, one key approach is the greater electrification of energy supply and demand. High-efficiency power conversion is essential for both. On the supply side, renewable energy power conversion applications, such as solar inverters, and on the demand side, the electrification of transportation, are examples where Wide Bandgap (WBG) semiconductors like silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) achieve advantages in power conversion efficiency and power density. This article summarizes the 2024 GaN power semiconductor predictions eBook from Infineon Technologies.

Increased electricity demand is driven by several factors:

  • The move from fossil fuel-based internal combustion engines to electric vehicles (EVs) is accelerating as cost improvements, technology, and infrastructure lead to greater demand.
  • The conversion to electric heat pumps in residential and commercial heating is driven by cost and significant efficiency improvements over traditional gas boilers. Other industrial applications, such as steel production, are also seeing increased use of electric furnaces. Applications forecasted to use hydrogen for heat generation, such as bulk chemical production and freight rail, require electrical energy for production.
  • The growth of the digital economy and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) have created a massive surge in the volume of data worldwide. Large amounts of energy are needed to power data centers and their cooling systems.

Electricity’s share of the world’s energy consumption is around 20%. This is expected to accelerate in future years, with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario placing this at over 50%. Let’s look at some key supply and demand sectors where GaN power semiconductors are expected to play a vital role.

Solar Energy

GaN-based micro-inverters, optimizers, and power conditioners will be more efficient at converting DC-generated electricity from photovoltaic panels (PVs) into usable AC electricity that can power homes, charging stations, and EVs. The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for residential solar is expected to decline further in 2024, making it an increasingly affordable solution. The demand for higher-power PV panels and battery storage solutions drives the need for higher-power inverters. GaN-based solutions enable higher efficiency, reduced system size, and simpler topologies.

Bidirectional micro-inverter topologies allow easier integration of energy storage solutions (ESS) with high efficiency. The report also predicts a greater level of intelligent integration of PV generation into the mainstream power grid, at both the micro-grid (5 kW – 500 kW) and the centralized utility-scale generation (hundreds of MW). This will ensure energy independence and resilience for both rural and urban communities.

Data Centers

According to the IEA, in 2022 data centers consumed around 2% of the world’s total electricity (approximately 460 TWh), with 40% of that used for cooling. The volume of data created worldwide is on an exponential growth path, with forecasts of it reaching 175 Zettabytes by 2025, a 146-fold increase over the year 2010. The use of AI significantly increases the computational demand, and hence the energy footprint. It is believed, for example, that a single generative AI query has a carbon footprint four times larger than a search engine request.

GaN power semiconductors have seen strong demand in data center applications. New government regulations will only serve to accelerate this. Loopholes in Power Utilization Effectiveness (PUE) regarding server power supply power conversion efficiency are expected to be addressed, along with higher efficiency mandates for data centers. The advantages of operating at lower temperatures with GaN are reduced cooling power and size requirements. The momentum to cold plate liquid cooling also allows for increased server performance.

E-Mobility

EV sales show strong growth, with sales expected to soar by 21% in 2024 and surpass two-thirds of global car sales by 2030. SiC power devices have played a leading role in the EV traction inverter. In the automotive market, GaN is expected to play an increasingly prominent role over the next few years. GaN power semiconductors are likely to be seen as a cost-effective alternative to Si and SiC solutions in the 400 V bus systems.

On-board chargers (OBCs) and DC-DC converters are likely initial application targets for GaN. In the fast-charging 800 V bus systems, multi-level GaN topologies can be a viable solution as well. As battery costs continue to decrease, the increased efficiency and power density with GaN allows for synergistic overall cost reductions along with EV driving range improvement.

Consumer and Commercial Markets

Starting in 2024, mobile phones, tablets, or cameras sold within the EU will be required to include a USB Type-C charging port. This simplifies the end-user experience. The same power adapters with increased power levels can potentially be used across a wide range of devices, from phones to laptops, streamlining the charging experience. GaN devices are already widely used in many power adapters, and the requirements for high efficiency and small footprints will accelerate this trend.

Estimates in this e-book put the annual household energy savings through the use of these high-efficiency chargers in smartphones at over 2.3 GWh in a big city like Munich, Germany, with a reduction of 1.1 kt of CO2 equivalent emissions. The audio industry is also likely to leverage the superior performance of GaN in Class D audio designs, making car audio systems lighter, smaller, and more efficient. High-efficiency multi-kilowatt professional audio amplifier systems will be enabled by GaN. High-fidelity consumer audio with simpler designs with GaN will give consumers a marked improvement in the audio experience.

Conclusion

Infineon Technologies acquired GaN Systems in October 2023. This has accelerated their GaN roadmap. Their GaN product portfolio includes a range of e-mode GaN HEMT devices ranging from 100 V to 700 V in a variety of innovative SMT packages. These devices are expected to play a vital role in applications ranging from e-mobility to power adapters and help achieve the goal of a net-zero economy.

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