London Calling: Digital Power Comes of Age

altLONDON – The merger of digital control and power is coming of age in the era of energy efficiency. Three companies founded between 2000 and 2010 are amongst those showing the way.

Going back 40 years it used to be that the electrical industry, essentially electricity distribution, was the big, old-fashioned sector and electronics – particularly digital silicon semiconductor electronics applied to information technology – was the young upstart.

Now the semiconductor market has plateaued at an annual size of $300 billion and a number of the familiar chip giants have disappeared or are hard-pressed or having to restructure. One contributory factor is that much of the semiconductor industry was built over the previous 40 years on a culture of functional performance first and with only secondary regard to power consumption.

As we all know we have entered an environmentally aware era.

So now electronics is the slow-moving behemoth and the startups come in the area of energy efficiency.

Powervation Ltd. (Cork, Ireland) is one such company. It is a 2006 startup that sells adaptive power control ICs and firmware to improve the efficiency of power supplies and conversion modules. The company has announced that CUI Inc. has selected its PV3012 digital controller for use in two of its product families. Powervation was backed by Intel Capital amongst others in its early venture capital rounds.

Both power module product families deliver adaptive self-compensation through the use of Powervation's Auto-Control technology. Auto-Control automatically and dynamically balances the trade-off between performance and system stability in real time and compensates for changes in the converter's output impedance, which could be due to component aging, manufacturing variances, and temperature, under a wide variety of potential loads.

Cambridge Semiconductor Ltd. (Cambridge, England) is older than Powervation having been formed in 2000. Its latest product is the C2283, a primary side sensing controller with a constant power mode for flyback power supply designs. The C2283, which offers fast voltage pull-up is suitable for electronic products with high input capacitance, such as modems and other networking devices, but is also for set-top boxes and other high volume, energy-efficient universal input adapter applications rated above 8 Watts, the company reckons.

The C2283 helps manufacturers meet the standby power requirements of EC 1275/2008 tier two. EC 1275/2008 is the European Commission's eco-design regulations covering energy efficiency requirements for products with standby and/or off modes came into force in January 2010.  The rules apply to any IT equipment intended primarily for domestic use, as well as almost all domestic appliances and other consumer products.

After 12 years CamSemi, as the company is known, is still privately held but there is some evidence that the company is starting to prosper as digitally controlled power comes of age. The company was listed as one of the fastest growing technology-based companies in the United Kingdom. Its annual sales increased by 85 percent a year from £1 million (about $1.6 million) in 2008 to about £6.5 million (about $10.5 million) in 2011.

And from the old to the new Amantys Ltd., also headquartered in Cambridge, was founded in 2010 by a group of former ARM executives with a vision to apply digital control to high power electronics. It is not trivial but the company is starting to offer products that claims will allow systems to have greater efficiency, better reliability and reduced cost.

The other thing to note is that all three companies have, at one time or another, been members of the Silicon 60, EE Times' list of emerging technology startups.




As originally publisehd on the EE Times Website: