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Green semiconductor advice goes beyond the chip

Cradle-to-cradle thinking

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ISSCC The semiconductor industry is poised to make major contributions to global energy efficiency, according to NXP Semiconductors chief technology officer René Penning de Vries speaking at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC).

The need for energy efficiency is twofold, according to Penning de Vries speaking at the San Francisco, California, event. Namely, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, and to reduce the overall need for the energy required to power electronic devices. This will, in turn, reduce the need for power generation and thus also reduce carbon emissions

"For every one per cent saved in the world's electricity consumption," said Penning de Vries, "roughly 40 fewer power stations are required."

Most energy efficiency efforts undertaken by the semiconductor industry up until now have focused on chips themselves. The next steps "require a new climate of innovation," which Penning de Vries defined as "cradle to cradle". That means design, though manufacturing, to use in carefully monitored operation with real-time, component-level, highly optimized power management.

Among the areas of improvements that Penning de Vries discussed were buildings, displays, lighting, and cars.

Buildings: approximately 2.5 billion electricity meters are currently in use worldwide. Unfortunately, most meters are primitive analog devices that must be read manually by a peripatetic meter-reader with a clipboard.

Networkable meters are only now beginning to appear, adding the advantage of centralized monitoring and immediate feedback to their users.

The next step will be smart metering using advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) - which Penning de Vries said in an aside to the assembled semiconductor designers will "require a lot of silicon."

AMI meters will be able to not only monitor and regulate electricity use, but also intelligently load-balance in real time, flattening out peak demand - which, according to Penning de Vries, is actually a rare occurance - only 55 hours per year, for example, in California.

Widespread adoption of AMI metering could result in a 10 per cent reduction in electricity use.

Displays: Penning de Vries referred to the current backlighting systems used in the majority of large-screen displays - think wide-screen LCD TVs - as "stupid." To illustrate the immediacy of the challenge, Penning de Vries claimed that: "As three million homes upgrade to home cinema, we need another - large - power station."

He outlined a number of proposed improvements that would reduce current power requirements by up to 85 per cent, yet still produce the same brightness as is achieved in today's systems.

All of his suggested improvements require monitoring the display's video signal to determine the color and brightness of each pixel, and then modify the power used for illumination on a pixel-by-pixel basis.

Merely using white LEDs as illumination, then dimming the illumination of white pixels could result in a 50 per cent power cut without changing perceived illumination, according to Penning de Vries. Adding RGB sensing and adjusting illumination to match pixel needs could drop that power by another 10 per cent.

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