Power Electronics in ICT Systems: The Importance of Power Engineering and Power Electronics
Power engineering and electronics, while maybe not as popular as other forms of engineering, is of great importance to the world around us — especially in the information and communications world.
COVID-19 has shown just how important engineers and the technology they produce are to the world. From power generation to transportation and communication technologies to average kitchen appliances, power electronics and the engineers behind these electronic devices are everywhere.
This short series of articles has been exploring the many ways power electronics permeate our daily lives. In part three of this series, we take a look at how information and communications systems rely on the power electronics industry’s wealth of technology.
The Growth of Communication Technology
Information and communication technology (ICT) is the result of fusing informatics and telecommunications. End-user devices, networks, and services make up ICTs.
End-user devices have come a long way. Computer technology and peripheral devices evolve at a dizzying pace. But technology has not stagnated in computers. It has introduced new types of end-user devices and improved their characteristics. Take cell phones as an example — they are far from just voice calls. A single cell phone has hundreds of applications.
Networks allow devices to be interconnected, with the internet as the cornerstone. ICTs improved fixed and cell telephony, and the Internet itself, going from a dial-up connection to broadband, and then to fiber optics. This networking allows us to live in real-time.
The range of services is vast: email, information search, online banking, electronic commerce, e-administration, e-government, leisure, cloud-computing, and more.
Powerful Data Centers
The expansion of internet-based services is stimulating the growth of data centers.
A data center is a platform that contains the critical systems in a computer network, including, but not limited to, power backup, HVAC, security, servers — web, database, content, applications — storage, and networking equipment.
Data centers concentrate all the resources necessary for the processing of the information of an organization, compiles and protects data, stores, processes, and exchanges digital information, and provides applications and services like web hosting, intranet, telecommunications, and technological knowledge.
A data center requires maximum power availability to keep IT service running smoothly at all hours of the day. In doing so, it consumes higher amounts of energy than any conventional office building — as much as heavy manufacturing industries. This requires great effort to achieve high energy efficiency. Power electronics is a crucial part of this endeavor.
The Importance of the Modern Microprocessor
Modern microprocessors can perform millions of operations per second, and they require power supplies to function. The development of these power supplies is an application of power electronics.
Applications of power electronics per level:
Utility level: active switch management of multiple feeds and integration into microgrids.
Building level: choose between low voltage and medium voltage input, and high-power converters for DC distribution practices.
Back-up level: uninterruptible power supply (UPS) provides high-quality power conditioning and backup.
Rack level: AC or DC distribution systems may supply power and are often delivered directly to server-level power supplies.
Board level: often employ one or two power supply units (PSUs) Within a blade, manage power for memory boards, computing motherboards, and other local IT equipment.
Chip level: Within a board, individual point-of-load (PoL) DC-DC converters provide low-voltage power for chips or chipsets.
Internal level: Some ICs, especially multi-core processors, have onboard energy management. At the internal level, within a chip, a recent trend is to bring DC-DC conversion into the chip itself.
The first microprocessors consumed very little compared to today's microprocessors. Since the introduction of the Pentium, the demanded power has increased substantially, and the new circuits may consume 100W or more. Newer power supplies provide voltages of less than 1V to reduce the power consumption and, consequently, the temperature of the circuit.
People frequently recharge their cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices that perform increasingly functions every day. The degree of demand on batteries and chargers is increasing, and the development of these chargers, more efficient and compact, is the responsibility of power electronics.
However, efficiency and compactness have become two very important terms as power electronics and the ICT space intersect more and more.
Read more from this series of articles on the importance of power electronics engineering:
About the author
Lorenzo Mari has been a university professor since 1982, teaching topics as electric circuit analysis, electric machinery, power system analysis, and power system grounding. As such, he has written many articles to be used by students as learning tools. He also created five courses to be taught to electrical engineers in career development programs, i.e., Electrical Installations in Hazardous Locations, National Electrical Code, Electric Machinery, Power and Electronic Grounding Systems and Electric Power Substations Design. As a professional engineer, Mari has written dozens of technical specifications and other documents regarding electrical equipment and installations for major oil, gas and petrochemical capital projects. He has been EPCC Project Manager for some large oil, gas & petrochemical capital projects where he wrote many managerial documents commonly used in this kind of works.