Green energy in home and garden

Semiconductors for energy balanced households

For most of us, our home is the center of our lives: Our personal haven, our source of strength. It's where we enjoy our free time, accomplish everyday tasks and spend time with our loved ones. But our home is also a place where we consume a lot of energy, e.g. when heating, freezing, cooking, gardening or communicating. There we can realize great potential in terms of our individual contribution to climate protection. Whether it’s the refrigerator, television, lawn mower or hedge trimmer, the potential savings from higher energy efficiency are highly significant.

Furthermore, the electrification of areas previously dominated by fossil fuels is emerging as a crucial factor in reducing CO2 emissions. This means electricity will take on an increasingly central role in our lives. It promises to become the energy source on which we rely for all our everyday needs. Electric energy is the highest quality and most flexible form of energy, because we can easily convert electricity into light, motion and heat.

Our semiconductor solutions with power-saving chips, sensors, motor control and connectivity systems are key contributors to energy-efficient household appliances within our four walls.

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Combustion-powered tools are a thing of the past. They are noisy and, above all, they pollute a lot. According to California’s Air Resources Board, small gas-powered equipment such as leaf blowers and lawn mowers emit many times more smog-forming pollution than a family car in the same amount of time (e.g. 1 hour leaf blower use ≙ driving 1100 miles). Thus, a new law in California aims to ban the sale of fossil-fueled tools by 2024. Green alternatives are already in place: Cordless power tools equipped with efficient brushless motors and lithium-ion batteries. These alternatives offer the same or even better performance, especially professional power tools from 36 to 72 V. We also see the transition to electric and cordless devices in the DIY sector. In many homes and gardens people use lawn mower and vacuum cleaner robots, or cordless hedge trimmers and drills. These battery-powered devices offer high performance and efficiency at the same time when equipped with modern semiconductors.
Moving ahead, how can semiconductor solutions improve the tools' efficiency and service lives? Let's have a look to the main areas motor, charging and battery.

Motor control: Today, about 50% of all motors are brushed. However, the trend is towards brushless motors that need less battery capacity. Power parts, microcontrollers and sensors enable a much more efficient motor commutation, which results in lower energy consumption and gives the device a longer lifetime.

Charging: Modern chargers not only include better thermal management, which reduces losses during charging and thus needs less energy to charge the same capacity. Today's chargers can also charge batteries smarter and thus extend battery lifetime, so that less battery waste is generated every year.
Battery management: A sustainable device also includes a durable battery. However, this cannot be achieved simply with a bigger battery, since this would require more material and the tool still needs to be handy and light. The solution is power components and modern BMS architecture that extend battery efficiency and lifetime.

Heat pumps make it possible to electrify heating and reduce the need for fossil fuels. The technology has always been important in the transition to green energy. Current geopolitical tensions and unpredictable oil and gas prices have moved this technology farther into the limelight. Heat pumps transfer thermal energy stored in the environment, for example in air, water or the ground, into a building using the familiar refrigerant cycle. The energy provided can then be used for heating, domestic hot water and even for cooling. In short: Heat pumps convert heat from the environment into energy that can be used in homes. Our semiconductor solutions support the entire range of heat pump functions in the indoor and outdoor unit. Power supply components drive the compressor's inverter and the fan, sensors measure temperature and semiconductor devices support remote control and internet connectivity. Carbon-free operation of heat pumps doesn't consume gas; instead the compressor pump runs on electricity, ideally generated from renewables. A heat pump can take 1 kW of electricity to run its motor and draw energy from the environment and then transfer 3 to 6 kW of thermal energy into a building. This is why heat pumps are so highly efficient – put simply: Since energy is extracted from the environment, the heat pump consumes less power than it ultimately delivers. Combined with energy storage systems, heat pumps can absorb fluctuations in electricity generation from renewables, so that more and more electricity demand can be met by photovoltaics and wind power. In addition, the refurbishment of existing buildings to net-zero carbon makes even more efficient operation of heat pumps possible. Heat pumps transfer stored thermal energy from the environment, e.g. the air, water or ground, into a building using the refrigerant cycle. Air-source heat pumps, for example, draw in outside air via a fan, which supplies ambient heat to the heat pump. In the heat pump, the temperature of the outside air causes a refrigerant medium to evaporate, i.e. it becomes gaseous. This gas is then compressed by the compressor. As a result, the temperature of the gas (refrigerant medium) increases. In the condenser, the hot refrigerant gas is now condensed, releasing its heat. In the building to be heated, water circulates as the heating medium. This water absorbs the heat given off by the refrigerant in the condenser and conducts it to a distribution system for heating or for hot water storage. According to the IEA, heat pumps are becoming the main way to decarbonize space and water heating worldwide, in a scenario in which all governments achieve their energy and climate pledges in full. The IEA estimates heat pumps have the potential to reduce global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 500 million tons in 2030 – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of all cars in Europe today. The numbers speak for themselves: In the European Union, with its largest markets in France, Italy and Germany, sales grew by around 35% year-on-year, exceeding 2.2 million units. Globally, heat pump sales increased by more than 13% in 2021. According to the IEA Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, the number of heat pumps installed globally will increase to around 600 million in 2030.

Air conditioning: energy savings the smart way

The past seven years have been the hottest ever recorded. No wonder the need for indoor cooling is strongly on the rise. In 2021, cooling accounted for nearly 16% of the electricity ultimately consumed by buildings (~ 2 000 TWh). The potential for energy savings is huge: "Growing demand for air conditioners is one of the most critical blind spots in today's energy debate" says Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director. Higher efficiency standards could reduce the need for new power plants, cut emissions and reduce costs.

Especially intelligent air conditioning systems can leverage those benefits, reducing power consumption and increasing comfort thanks to targeted cooling. In order to adjust performance to the real needs, these devices are able to ‘see', 'hear' and 'feel' their surroundings. Sensors and controllers identify the number and location of people in a room. Using this information, the aircon then modifies fan speed and swing scope. The smart system also measures temperature, CO2 concentration and air quality in order to decide when to infuse fresh and cool air, contributing to significant energy savings.

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It's an invisible, but crucial task. Your charger is responsible for powering your smart phone, tablet and other devices with the "right" type of current and voltage. This means it transforms alternating current into direct current and converts the original voltage of 230V (110V in the US) to a lower voltage the device can use, e.g. 5V. Otherwise your device will not charge and may even be damaged. However, energy is lost during this transformation. We can feel it: the charger gets warm – or even hot, depending on the components and the quality of the electronic system. State-of-the-art microelectronics inside the device can significantly reduce this waste heat. Here, the semiconductor technology gallium nitride (GaN) has particularly fitting properties: These transistor components enable a higher switching frequency in the voltage converter while keeping loss at very low levels. Put simply: GaN semiconductors help save electrical energy in the device – to a remarkable extent. Lower heat generation is important, and at the same time we need powerful and convenient devices. GaN can solve this challenge too. The size of the device can be reduced with no loss in performance. Conversely, a charger of the original size can handle more devices without compromising the charging time. Technically speaking, GaN semiconductors enable a higher "power density". As a result, Infineon’s GaN technology contributes to various environmental benefits: saving materials and resources, limiting transportation efforts and reducing e-waste. An important new regulation in the EU will take effect as of December 2024: Smartphones, tablets and headphones will have to be equipped with a USB-C port, mainly for sustainability reasons. Later, other types of devices will follow. In the near future only one standard connector will be necessary for delivering power to various electronic devices: This also means that we significantly reduce the number of chargers and thus cut electronic waste. Infineon’s semiconductors, including GaN power stages and transistors, are driving this new technology: They enable efficient and fast charging.

Refrigerators - pleasantly silent with energy efficient motors

The sound of a constantly running refrigerator is a thing of the past, when these motors were simply turned on or off, or left running all day. This resulted in an immense amount of energy consumption, and noise. Modern refrigerators are smart and connected. Their motors are controlled by power chips, sensors and microcontrollers (in other words: "inverterized"). These components make motors pleasantly silent, energy efficient and ultimately smaller. Inverterization makes it possible for devices to consume only as much electricity as they actually need. This is much more efficient than turning the motor on and off all day.

The principle is simple: by constantly gathering data, such as temperature, humidity and motor rotational speed, sensors help an appliance run more efficiently. Based on this data, a mini-computer or microcontroller calculates the control commands required to make the refrigerator consume less energy. Power chips implement these commands for the motor’s optimum rotational speed, keeping the refrigerator’s temperature constant. This way the cooling is adjusted to current demand, since the motor speed is regulated depending on load

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Did you know that in 2025 the number of smart homes is expected to reach 500 million worldwide? Connected devices, like smart fridges or ACs, make our lives more convenient, but they also consume additional energy. In the face of climate challenges, we need to find intelligent ways to limit overall energy consumption, specifically consumption by smart functionalities. And this is where sensors come into play. They enable connected devices to intuitively understand their surroundings and to react accordingly. We call that “contextual awareness”. In addition to safety and convenience for smart home inhabitants, this ability makes it possible to save energy. Sensors make sure devices are not simply always ON, instead they only run when needed. And with great benefits: We reduce CO₂ emissions, increase device lifetimes and cut costs.

Click to the right and explore three sensor examples which have a real impact:
Everybody would agree that in most cases it makes no sense to use electricity when nobody is around – whether generally at home, in a room or close to an electrical device. Conversely, it's very convenient that devices switch on when a person enters the room or is in the vicinity: The air-conditioning starts to run, the lights go on, the music begins to play. Energy consumption should be linked to real needs and room occupancy. How do we achieve this? With high sensitivity, XENSIV™ radar sensors are able to detect people and movements in a room, switching devices on or putting them into deep sleep mode. This way, radar sensors not only increase comfort and user experience (e.g. the music is there where you are), but also optimize the energy consumption of many smart home applications. Are you aware of the latest TV innovations? One is definitely the Samsung Frame TV. When not in use, the screen shows an artwork instead of “black space”. The 2021 model runs with an Infineon XENSIV™ 60GHz radar sensor. This sensor can detect people in the room and turns off the art mode once nobody is around for a certain time. This not only saves OLED lifetime, but also energy. Effective measurement of air quality has become especially important in pandemic times. In addition to the benefits for health and well-being, professional air control helps to reduce energy consumption. Intelligent ventilation systems can be controlled by sensors, measuring CO₂ concentration, related to the number of persons present. According to the results, the room is provided with a calculated amount of fresh air – only as much as needed. The same effect is achieved by opening the window and closing it at the right point in time. This reduces heating and cooling efforts. Did you know that 50% of the EU's energy consumption in buildings and industry is related to heating and cooling? There is enormous potential for energy savings. E.g., a ventilation system with a XENSIV™ PAS CO2 sensor can save up to 55% of energy. The impact is even higher when combined with smart thermostats and building automation systems. Many smart devices (e.g. doorbells, video cameras, smart speakers) use microphones to record sounds, receive commands or input and to allow for communication. Most of the time, these devices are on stand-by until a certain input "wakes them up". This is why built-in XENSIV™ MEMS microphones have two modes: In normal mode, the microphone has the best acoustic performance, allowing for clear audio input. In low-power mode, the microphone’s energy consumption is dramatically reduced, while it is still able to “listen” – mostly for wake-words like "Alexa" or "Siri" or triggers like the sound of a door opening. Once such an input is detected, the microphone switches to normal mode for optimal audio pick up. The fact that smart speakers have more than four microphones and spend up to 90% of the time in low-power mode means there is great energy savings potential. In an ideal world, electrical equipment in buildings would run without failures and consume energy in the most efficient way. Of course, this is not always the case. Integrated in the critical elements of a system, sensors can monitor the condition of devices such as HVAC or lighting. The data collected may show deviations from normal values indicating a decrease in performance and efficiency. The result: Expensive down-times and higher power consumption. Due to aging and degradation, devices no longer run at their optimum performance. This can be detected by various sensors. E.g., in an HVAC system the DPS368 barometric pressure sensor detects reduced airflow due to a clogged filter, the TLI4971 magnetic current sensor indicates motor failure and the IM69D130 microphone detects sound anomalies in the compressor. In addition to condition monitoring, sensors also enable the next step: Predictive maintenance. Smart feel, smart nose, smart ear and smart eye: All together, Infineon's sensors are inspired by human functions and are able to interpret their surroundings, including implicit intentions and context. It almost seems like the devices with built-in sensors intuitively understand what we want them to do. That's why we call this intelligent technology “Intuitive Sensing”. Sensors connect the real and the digital world, making life not only easier and safer, but also greener.

Video: Energy savings with sensors

Tiny size, big impact: Infineon’s XENSIV™ radar sensor is part of the latest Samsung innovation, the Frame TV. Enabling presence detection it can reduce the energy consumption of the artwork display significantly.

Innovative products for home and garden

A variety of innovative solutions support the energy saving potential in the domestic environment, transforming it into a green and smart home that helps reduce CO2 emissions. Power semiconductors, microcontrollers, connectivity solutions and various types of sensors significantly reduce energy consumption while improving the comfort and well-being of home occupants.  

Wide-bandgap technologies such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) play a special role here, since they take energy efficiency to the next level. With higher power density and smaller form factors, they are the key to sustainable designs in home appliances, photovoltaics and energy storage solutions.



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