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Management Report

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A Paradigm Shift in Power System

A Paradigm Shift in Power System

LEE Won-Hee

Mar. 4, 2011


Welcome to our video program. I’m Won-Hee Lee from the technology and industry department.

A paradigm shift is taking place in the world’s power systems.

First, on the supply side, renewable energy sources like solar and wind power are rapidly increasing their share. Renewable power sources do not pollute the environment, however, they can be somewhat unstable. Wind power for example, depends on wind conditions. The average fluctuation in wind supplies at a wind farm can be as much as 20-30%.

Power demand is also changing. Extreme weather conditions stemming from climate change has led to large fluctuations in power demand. The recent unusually cold weather, for example, triggered record demand for power this winter in Korea.

Finally, change is also happening in technology. As the days of analogue power devices come to an end and as the semiconductor age begins, power control equipment has grown more versatile, while control of power supplies has grown more stable.

All these changes bring new opportunities.

Today, we’re going to find out what these opportunities are.

First, we’ll look at new power transmission and distribution systems that can supply direct current, or DC, directly to your home or workplace. I’m sure you’re familiar with existing power systems that send out alternating current, or AC, and then use an AC adaptor to convert to DC to power your devices. During this conversion, about 10% of power is lost. But with a direct current transmission system, you can improve efficiency by reducing the number of conversions.

Then, why haven’t we used DC systems so far?

In the early 1900s, when electric power was just beginning to be used, debates raged over which was better, AC or DC. Thomas Edison advocated DC, while his rival Nikola Tesla promoted a newer alternating current system. When transmitting the same power, DC is more efficient. DC, however, is difficult to transmit over long distances. As a result, Tesla’s alternating current became the global standard.

NTT has reported that it has cut 17 billion won worth of electricity costs by installing DC transmission and distribution systems at its data center. Where the system is in place, no AC adaptor is necessary. This means that device portability increases and devices can be smaller. Soon we may see laptops that do not need the familiar, bulky power bricks.

Second, electricity storage systems that can store surplus power at normal times and release it in times of increased demand will expand their reach. When this happens, electricity can be produced and stored at night by wind mills, to be used during peak hours later in the day, or sold to a power company.

Recently, as the concept of power storage through electric cars has been introduced, automakers are making forays into power storage. Toyota plans to roll out home electricity storage systems using electric cars by 2012, in cooperation with its construction affiliate Toyota Home. Nissan plans to re-sell the battery for its Leaf electric car once their performance degrades so that they can be used for electricity storage. This will help Nissan cut the price of the Leaf and help it sell more cars.

Lastly, power semiconductors, which are at the center of the paradigm shift, are going to expand in market size.

Power semiconductors are quite distinct from the memory chips we usually consider to be “semiconductors.” Power semiconductors can control large amounts of power, and are used as switches that can control power supplies instantly.

Next-generation power semiconductors using new materials will run at more than 10 times current voltages, while still functioning at double or triple today’s temperatures.

They will also suffer from minimal power loss of only 1/1000 of the total.

Recently, large power device makers are shifting to next-generation power semiconductors by cooperating with semiconductor makers and setting up affiliates. For example, Siemens and Infineon set up SiCED to develop next-generation semiconductors.

Power systems is a huge market, with investment expected to be US$6.6 trillion by 2030.

For now, American and European companies enjoy predominance in the market. However, just as Korean companies made the nation an IT player during the switch from analog consumer products to digital, they can do the same in power systems, as a paradigm shift is taking place. The power industry goes beyond power and electricity and integrates fields like semiconductors, IT and automobiles. With their IT, battery and automobile technologies, Korean firms can combine technologies to create a variety of business models. As an enormous market is being created in the new power generation industry, Korean companies need to discover areas where they can create synergy effects by cooperating with each other.

Thank you for watching. I’m Won-Hee Lee.

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