National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Power

Picture of night lights of the Eastern USA from International Space Station

Energy Savings in Public Power Distribution

Superior silicon carbide power electronics could increase the efficiency and reliability of the public electric power distribution system.

Energy utilities generate more electricity than is consumed at any given time. This excess power reserve is needed to cover losses that occur in electric power transmission, including losses that accumulate during conversion of electricity to and from very different voltages used throughout the power grid. Excess power reserve is also needed to ensure that electric service is reliably immune to everyday load changes and component failures that cause electrical glitches throughout the power grid. With increasing reliance on renewable energy The incorporation of more efficient silicon carbide power conversion electronics into the power grid should significantly reduce the power reserve margin necessary for reliable operation.

Power semiconductor devices are a critical element of “smart” electric power conversion and distribution systems. While the vast majority of these devices are presently implemented in conventional silicon-based semiconductor technology, it is increasingly clear that SiC power devices can greatly improve the efficiency and size performance of these systems. In short, SiC power devices could standoff higher voltages and respond faster using devices with lower parasitic resistances and physically sizes much smaller than silicon power devices. Faster switching speed not only increases power system conversion efficiency, but it also enables the use of smaller transformers and capacitors to greatly shrink the overall size and weight of the system. Furthermore, the high temperature capability of SiC greatly reduces cooling requirements that are also a substantial portion of the total size and cost of a power conversion and distrubution system. SiC devices are therefore expected to drastically improve the distribution and efficient usage of electric power in the 21st century.