Move From AC to DC, says Infineon CEO

The smart grid is ‘the Internet of Electrical Power’, Reinhard Ploss, CEO Of Infineon, told the Electronica Forum, while advocating a move from AC transmission to DC.

Ploss pointed out that the advent of locally generated power from wind and solar which domestic users feed into the grid means that the end user has become part of the distribution process.

“There’s a need to tune the grid,” said Ploss, “the switch from AC to DC transmission would get rid of inefficient energy in the system, avoiding reactive power. HV DC transmission over the existing lines would push energy transport by nearly a factor of two.”


The current problem with electricity distribution is its inefficiency, said Ploss’ fellow panelist Gregg Lowe, CEO of Freescale. “”For less than 10% of the time more than 20% of the capacity is being used,” said Lowe, “for 90% of the time you only need 20% of the capacity. Semiconductors should be able to solve that.”


Ploss pointed to the need to be able to switch power lines on and off and redirect power from one point to another, but another fellow panelist, Carlo Bozotti, CEO of STMicroelectronics, pointed out this totally failed to happen in the Japanese tsunami disaster.


“Japan tried to transfer power from the West side of the island to the East side but it was a disaster – they could not move the power” said Bozotti adding that the Japanese grid is 50-60 years old.


Is storing energy during low usage tines and using it at high usage times the answer? “Storage is important but it isn’t the answer,” said Lowe, “we should try figuring out ways to balance the usage. “If power companies sell electricity for less at certain parts of the day, it will encourage people to use it when it’s cheap.”


Some examples of successful implementation of the smart grid were quoted: Lowe said that Austin, Texas has 500,000 smart meters and China will have 300m smart meters by 2016. Bozotti said that Italy has spent $2bn installing 33m smart meters and is now saving $500m a year.


The urgency of smartening up the grid is, said Bozotti, shown by the fact the Americans spend $150bn a year repairing the grid after power outages and some emerging countries are finding that 40% of their electricity is stolen.


The answer to all of this is semiconductors. The CEOs were agreed that the smart grid represented a big opportunity for their companies, that the smart grid would be effected by semiconductors and that it would improve life.


“Semiconductors have the ability to always manage power at a lower cost than last year,” said Ploss, “what we can supply is a system where  you can become more and more affordable. Semiconductors are one of the reasons we have a good life.”



  1. A 5W to 6W LED is a reasonable replacement for a 50W halogen in my experience. So factor of 9 to 10 reduction in current.

  2. SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

    Yes, I don’t believe it will solve all power problems. However it will be useful for low power applications such as lighting etc. Halogen produce a lot of heat, using LED will probably require a lot less power.
    Storing power or sending out to grid might not be economical so it is best to use it as it is generated. Fortunately you can soak up a lot of power in an useful way using a few hundred watts to a fridge or freezer. There is a lot of technology going into this.

  3. Yes, The Baron, I see what you meant and used the comment as a peg on which to hang a plug for Ploss who seems something of a modern rara avis – a CEO who understands the business he’s in.

  4. I’m sure Ploss is a good bloke, David, and I know he didn’t say “the only reason”; I was just baffled as to why he felt he needed to qualify technical justification arguments with a “well, d’uh!” closing remark like that.
    It came across to me as if he’d thought “uh, oh! I don’t think I sold that well” and so added an impromptu true-but-strange-you-felt-the-need-to-say-it comment. People don’t naturally do things like finishing Persil advertisments with statements of the obvious like “…because not having to wear skanky clothes like medieval peasants is nice!”
    Maybe I’m just to sensitised to marketing BS and can’t turn the filters off when someone is trying to make sense.
    The Baron

  5. The trouble with low voltage local distribution is the size of copper cable needed. At 42V that’s nearly 6 times the current of current AC mains, so for example that 10kW electric shower cable will need to carry a whopping 238 amps!
    The downlighters in my house were originally low voltage (12V/50W) halogen bulbs supplied by switch mode converters. I’ve had half a dozen fail, and the failure is usually related to the LV terminal block area which has melted due to poor termination of the wires to the bulb.

  6. SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

    For DC I think there are actually two different scales that are interesting here.
    At the high end I believe Sweden already has started experiments with literally hair raisingly high voltages for cross country backbone net. It must be about 10 years since I heard experiments were underway, not sure what status is today.
    At the low end I remember there was much excitement about high temperature superconductors (“High Tc”) for long distance transmissions. Siemens was interested. Mitsubishi has a lot of patents for suitable cables.
    As for local power, why not remain at low voltage DC? At voltages up to 42V home users may legally install cables and equipment themselves in many countries (rules no doubt vary). That fits with 7 x 6V accumulators and is plenty for lighting, home electronics and perhaps fridge/freezers. I have considered playing around with such things myself.

  7. As a proud recipient of ‘the Baron’s Gold Star Award’ I have to take issue with you, The Baron, I am reliably informed by the German Press that Ploss is a good bloke and he comes across as impressively thoughtful and knowledgeable. If he also has a social conscience and believes that what Infineon does is for the common good, that’s also a plus in my book. After all he didn’t say semiconductors are the only reason why we have a good life, and if you look st the standard of living improvements since the transistor was invented, I think it’s undeniable semiconductors have contributed to that improvement. I think it’s good to see a semi CEO who believes in what he’s doing – not just one trying to pay down debt incurred by his private equity bosses at the expense of thousands of families.

  8. “Semiconductors are one of the reasons we have a good life.”
    Here was me thinking he was all serious until finishing on that buzzword bingoesque little gem.
    David’s next list: “Top 5000 reasons we have a better life than cavemen with sh*t stuck to their ar*e hair and T-Rex breathing down their neck”. Form an orderly queue.
    The Baron

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