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Storage system and power electronics, crucial for the energy and transport sector

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The most renowned companies in both sectors are investing in R&D to promote these technologies and integrate them into their products


02/12/2016

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The efficient management of energy is a crucial aspect in two of the most important sectors of our economy: energy and transport. In the future, storage systems and power electronics will become essential. For this reason, the most important companies are already investing in R&D, with the aim of promoting these key technologies for their development.

Boosting clean energies

Renewable energy generation systems (such as wind and photovoltaic) require power electronics to inject energy into the grid and make it ‘digestible’ for distribution.

Furthermore, these systems require accumulators to store the energy produced. It should be noted that alternative energy sources rely on phenomena that cannot be controlled (such as wind and solar radiation), and whose production does not correspond in time with consumption needs. Therefore, if we wish to promote a greater implementation of alternative energy, it is essential to progress in the development of storage systems that allow the accumulation of energy produced, and its injection into the distribution network in times of greater demand.

The data support the growing importance of integrating storage in power grids. Storage capacity in new lithium-ion batteries has increased threefold worldwide in the past two years, and growth is expected to be even greater in the medium term. This should undoubtedly boost the use of renewable sources.

Transport of the future

In the transport sector, power electronics and storage systems should also become increasingly important. Vehicles need batteries to replace, in whole or in part, conventional fossil fuel-powered engines (gasoline, diesel, gas, etc.). In addition, in both road transport and railway vehicles, power converters play a key role in electric traction and in charging and managing battery power.

Volume and efficiency are two of the most important aspects in the competitiveness of these power converters. In this sense, the development of converters based on new semiconductors (such as silicon carbide – SiC) is becoming a reality in the hand of major Japanese manufacturers in the automotive (e.g. Toyota) and rail (Mitsubishi) industries, thanks to the reduced weight and size compared to current technologies. These companies are pioneers in the deployment of the most efficient technologies for the transport sector, and it is expected that these new converters should be progressively incorporated into the offers of many more companies. Market data show this: there is a growing use of these technologies in different transport systems: electric cars, trains, underground rail, and trams. In fact, sales of electric cars (hybrids or pure) are increasing in all brands. Recently, Volkswagen has announced that it intends to sell more than 100,000 electric cars in China by 2020 and more than 800,000 by 2025.

Examples of success

At IKERLAN, we collaborate with a number companies, including both multinationals and SMEs in these sectors.

For example, one remarkable success story is our collaboration with the company Vectia for the development of electric and hybrid buses. The transformation of the bus fleets in our cities is already a reality and, in order to boost it, we must completely change the concept of buses, integrating electric traction, in which power converters, storage and management of all equipment are crucial to a competitive outcome. The technologies developed in this project allow us to reduce consumption and pollutant emissions.

Another example is the work carried out with Acciona Energía in a storage and management system, allowing it to store the energy produced in a photovoltaic park, when the electricity demand is lower, and use it at the time when it is required by the grid.

In addition, some of the new semiconductors (CSi) that we are integrating for companies in the transport sector, such as the CAF Group, reduce the volume and weight of battery chargers by up to 50%. Logically, the development of lighter, smaller devices is a permanent goal in the technologies for means of transport.

In addition, during these years, we have maintained a collaboration with many other companies, such as Alstom, Cegasa Portable Power, Fagor Arrasate or Iberdrola Renovables for the joint development of innovations.

Products and services

At IKERLAN, we have set the goal of implementing more customised products and orient the design to each application and to the needs of each customer. A system embedded in a vehicle is not the same as a stationary application, and we must take that into account from the beginning of the development of the solution for each customer. Aspects such as reliability, cost, power density and energy or regulatory aspects are attributes with a very different weight in rail, industrial or renewable energy applications.

Regarding technologies in particular, the new semiconductors that are entering the market, such as silicon carbide (SiC) and, in the longer term, gallium nitride (GaN) are enabling us to develop novel solutions. Also noteworthy is the application of electromagnetism to other areas of energy and transport, such as the heating of surfaces in an efficient way or contactless energy transfer for recharging electric vehicles.

With regard to the future of electrical storage, major innovations are expected in the coming years, which should allow the development of products that are now almost unimaginable. It is still difficult to assess the quality and adaptation of the different technologies to each application, but it is clear that the life cycle of the batteries and the form of using them are crucial for enabling their integration in industrial applications in a competitive way. In this context, IKERLAN works in the custom design of storage systems and in the integration of commercial solutions, as well as in the correct sizing of the most appropriate technologies for our customers. We are convinced that only through detailed knowledge of the life expectancy of the batteries or ultracapacitors and their correct management in each application will it be possible to extract the best performance to these systems and make their implementation economically viable.

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