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Smart grid leads to vast opportunities, says CEO Panel

Posted: 15 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Smart grid? semiconductor industry? electricity distribution?

CEOs during the first morning of the Electronica exhibition were asked to focus on a single topic: the smart grid challenge.

This gave the assembled CEOs; Carlo Bozotti of STMicroelectronics, Rick Clemmer, of NXP Semiconductors, Reinhard Ploss of Infineon Technologies and Gregg Lowe of Freescale Semiconductor, the chance to speak optimistically about market opportunities to come.

It was only at the end of the panel when some questions came from the floor that matters moved on to business topics such as the state of the general economy, the semiconductor industry, and some of the particular companies represented on the stage.

All four CEOs agreed that the smart-grid is tremendous opportunity to sell more semiconductors as the world adds intelligence to what is still, in most places, a simple means of electricity distribution. The benefit would be enhanced energy efficiency and reduced need for power source provision to cope with peak demand and the need is to make the grid a multi-way highway that transfers both power and information in multiple directions.

On panel duty at Electronica 2012: from left to right: Gregg Lowe, Carlo Bozotti, Rick Clemmer, Reinhard Ploss, CEOs of Freescale Semiconductor, STMicroelectronics, NXP Semiconductors, and Infineon Technologies, respectively.

Infineon's Ploss described the situation. "The grid is not in bad condition but we must ask how can we use it better? Moving from ac to dc transmission, getting rid of reactive power consumption, would help. Using high-voltage dc transmission you could push energy transport up by a factor of two," he said.

Freescale's Lowe highlighted the market opportunity in sensors by pointing out that China has stated that by 2016 it will have deployed 300 million smart meters across the country. All the panelists then took turns to wax lyrical about smart domestic fixtures that could be controlled from smartphone or tablet or automatically adjust for human behaviour.

Bozotti of ST made the point that in Europe much of the work has been done or is being done. Italian electricity providers have spent $2 billion installing 33 million smart meters and are now enjoying annual savings of $500 million, said Bozotti, although he agreed China is a tremendous opportunity. Later in the panel he pointed out that the financial drive to improve the grid is clear with the estimate that power outages cost the United States' economy $150 billion per year.

For Rick Clemmer, CEO of NXP, the key message is that the smart-grid adds communications and security to electricity distribution to enable greater efficiency. Ploss pointed out that the additional complexity must be made transparent to the users. "You can't have an electrical engineer come to the house to manage the power. It must be extremely easy to use, high reliability and secure from the first moment," he said using this as an argument for high semiconductor content in the smart grid. He also argued "that the smart grid can be controlled remotely is essential to make it acceptable."

Questions from the floor?
As the topic moved energy storage Bozotti made the observation: "In certain emerging countries 40 per cent of electricity consumed in stolen. So you need sensors, anti-tamper, environmental, image, motion and so on." And Ploss added: "Smartness in the end devices is an essential part of the smart grid. It will not be possible without semiconductors.

Clemmer encouraged the audience to think more broadly of the smart-grid as the first wave of the Internet-of-Things.

The moderator journalist Kilian Reichert then asked the panel to speculate what the CEO panel would discuss in the two years' time. Bozotti offered up three topics he said were all driven by global societal needs: energy saving; health care; and trust and data security. Clemmer offered the Internet of Things and the connected automobile.

Lowe's answer drew attention to a topic that the panel had not addressed in this panel as well as applause; growth in the semiconductor market.

In response to a question from the floor about the state of the total semiconductor market Rick Clemmer provided somewhat subdued response. "Next year could be a tough year, a mid-to-low single digit percentage increase in semiconductor sales," he said.

When a questioner from the floor asserted that neither Freescale nor NXP had grown since 2006 and asked if private equity involvement had been a failure, Clemmer was more robust. "Look at our Q3 results; 9 per cent sequential and 12 per cent year-on-year growth." Clemmer said that turning a business around takes time and that private equity had provided the opportunity to focus the company on fewer market opportunities.

Lowe picked up the same theme saying the formula for success is simple: great products offered at an attractive price. "You have to focus on what you are good at, focus will enable growth in the future," Lowe said.

- Peter Clarke
??EE Times

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