Faster, Smaller, Cooler: GaN and SiC Face Off for Market Domination over Silicon

Faster, Smaller, Cooler: GaN and SiC Face Off for Market Domination over Silicon

By Pallavi Madakasira, analyst, Lux Research

The need for a smaller footprint, higher current density and superior thermal management is in turn driving innovation in power electronic components; specifically in materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN). These materials are set to have the biggest impact in four specific industry segments — Buildings and Industrial, Electronics and IT, Renewables and Grid Storage, and Transportation. The market for discrete power electronic components in these industry segments will reach $15 billion in 2020, and SiC and GaN devices will account for $3.3 billion, or 22 percent of the total. Of all applications, the 600 V application which typically includes photovoltaic (PV) inverters, motor drives, and power converters for electric vehicles (EVs), represents the fastest growing segment of the power electronics industry near-to-medium term. This segment also offers the happy medium wherein very high switching frequencies required of 1,200 V (and higher) applications are not essential, but incremental performance improvements can still have a significant impact on the number of balance of systems components, thermal management requirements, as well as footprint.

Buildings and Industrial will see steady growth, and offer the most welcoming GaN sub-segment particularly for GaN-on-Si and GaN-on-SiC. Total demand for power electronics – primarily for motor control – will grow to $2.4 billion by 2020, with the industrial sub-segment as the larger driver. SiC finds a stronger value proposition in industrial motor control, while GaN flourishes in similar, but smaller scale, applications within buildings.

Lux Research graph

Electronics and IT growth will largely be driven by the proliferation of consumer electronics. A plethora of power electronics in this traditional segment amount to $7.3 billion in demand in 2020, with consumer electronic devices like mobile phones, tablets, and televisions generating 87 percent of the demand. SiC will find a relatively chilly reception here outside of diodes for power factor control, largely due to the price sensitivity, and GaN (especially GaN-on-Si) soon eclipses it to carve out a solid niche for $363 million in 2020.

Renewables and the Grid Storage boom, will call out for both GaN as well as SiC to coexist. Segment growth drives discrete power electronics demand at a 9 percent CAGR to $2.5 billion by 2020. Solar is the leading sub-segment, and here SiC diodes in particular find a warm reception with 32 percent market share. Wind, with inherently fewer power electronic components, will trail solar despite its larger capacity, while grid storage emerges by 2020 as a $254 million opportunity. When examined in terms of kWh/kWp in solar inverters in particular – the addition of SiC and GaN diodes can increase an energy harvest to more  than 5.70 kWh/kWp. The addition of SiC and GaN transistors can increase a harvest to more than 5.85 kWh/kWp, though this is a lower relative increase over silicon in larger inverters.

Lux Research graph

Lux Research graph

The Transportation segment will offer faster growth for power electronics adoption, but with slightly less aggressive SiC adoption than in renewables. Emerging hybrid and electric transportation will generate $3.6 billion in demand in 2020 for discrete power electronics. Light vehicles – such as micro-hybrids, hybrids, and all-electric vehicles – account for the majority of the opportunity. All told, the performance demands of hybrid and electric transportation drive SiC and GaN to 31 percent of the market by 2020.

Madakasira and other invited experts will present at the SEMI Strategic Materials Conference 2013 discussing the key issues for next generation materials in semiconductors and adjacent markets. Register now for the October 16-17 event in Santa Clara, California. Visit www.semi.org/en/node/smc for more information.

Pallavi Madakasira is an analyst on the Lux Research Intelligence team leading the Energy Electronics domain, advising clients on market strategy & due diligence in emerging power electronics and LEDs. Prior to joining Lux Research, Pallavi worked at Piper Jaffray & Co., DayStar Technologies Inc., and Miasole.  Pallavi received her M.S. in Physics from the University of Texas, Dallas and an M.Sc (Hons.) Physics from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India.

 

September 3, 2013