The industrial revolution and the electrification of the world launched humankind into a new technological era, causing energy consumption to surge, and leading to the widespread concerns about energy crisis and climate change that we face today. While the usage of energy-consuming products is unlikely to decrease in the future, how can we, as a human race, continue to become more technologically advanced without draining our resources? Of course, shifting to renewable energy sources is a necessity. But behind the scenes, semiconductor technology has already played a role in making technology more energy-efficient, and continues to hold promise for the future.
1. Streamlining of Products
The development of reliable diodes has allowed devices such as radios to become smaller, portable, and more energy-efficient. In consumer applications, advancement in semiconductor technology has allowed devices to improve in performance and accessibility, and decrease in size and energy usage. Advances in automated transportation and communication technology have also allowed corporations and the military to achieve more, and faster, while expending fewer resources than in past decades. The increased use of electronic and automated devices has led to an overall streamlining of physical processes as well.
2. Streamlining of Physical Processes
Semiconductor-enabled technologies such as computers have allowed many physical processes to become digital. For example, computer aided design (CAD) technology has enabled manufacturers to visualize prototypes without expending any physical material. The ubiquity of computers has also allowed consumers to fill out forms, download music, receive and pay bills, order merchandise and tickets, and so on, without using any physical resources such as paper, compact disks, etc.
3. Connecting Variable Energy Sources to the Grid
Variable energy sources such as wind and solar power face a challenge in competing with fossil fuels, which provide 80% of the world’s energy. Wind and solar power sources produce variable currents that are not matched to the power grid, which make it difficult for them to integrate into the current prevailing energy infrastructure. However, semiconductor-based power electronics stabilize the current from these alternative sources so that it can enter the grid without interfering with power quality, making alternative energy sources much easier for consumers to adopt.
4. Maintenance of Clean Energy Sources
Clean energy sources such as wind turbines also require maintenance and monitoring. Since they are located high off the ground and in rural areas, it is impractical to have maintenance crews continuously available to monitor them. Remote sensors and computers utilizing semiconductor technology have become essential in monitoring the status of wind turbines and solar panels, increasing the feasibility of their gradual adoption.
5. Solid State Lighting
Solid State Lighting (SSL), especially light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are vastly more efficient than conventional lighting technologies such as halogen, incandescent, and fluorescent lighting, using up to 70% less energy. In addition, while fluorescents contain toxic mercury that is harmful to both humans and animals, LEDs are non-toxic and often made of recyclable material. LEDs’ lifespan is also up to 10x longer than that of fluorescent lighting, meaning a reduced need for constant production and replacement of bulbs.
While LED lights from the infrared to green spectrum have been around since the 1950s, the invention of the blue LED in the 1990s has made white LED lights for general illumination possible. LED also makes lighting accessible to people who lack access to electricity grids, as their lower power requirements can be easily met with local solar power. This breakthrough holds such significant promise for sustainability and bringing lighting to underdeveloped areas that the scientists who worked to develop the blue LED were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Believing that the commercial and industrial sectors can significantly and immediately reduce energy consumption by converting to solid state lighting, Big Shine Energy has been carrying out its Approaching Zero campaign to help businesses take the lead in sustainability.
The continued development of semiconductor technology allows us to accomplish increasingly more with fewer resources, and it is now only starting to catch on. The key to a sustainable existence for humankind may just lie in the widespread adoption of automated systems, clean energy sources, and solid-state lighting.