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Enable smarter power monitoring using Microchip's 16bit MCUs

Posted: 29 May 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Gartner Research? power monitoring? MCU? power supplies? Microchip Technology?

Gartner Research has revealed that Microchip Technology dominated the top 8bit and 16bit MCU vendor in sales of its PIC devices last year. One possible reason Microchip is retaking the lead may be that some of its competitors are abandoning 8/16bit MCUs as a declining market. However, it may also be because Microchip still considers the market as being ripe with niches offering opportunities for significant growth.

A good example of Microchip's ability to find niches where 8bit and 16bit MCUs can thrive is the company's just released MCP39F511 single-phase power-monitoring IC. The company's 16bit PIC MCU is at the heart of the device, allowing it to be used in any application requiring real-time measurement of active, reactive and apparent AC power; RMS current and RMS voltage; line frequency; and power-factor correction.

MCP39F511

At the core of the MCP39F511 is a 16bit calculation that allows on-chip analogue functions to be configured for a range of power monitoring applications.

If the company's strategy is right, its MCP39F511 will find a niche in not just one new market but several: high performance commercial and industrial products such as lighting and heating systems, smart plugs, power meters and AC/DC power supplies. While each of these niches is small compared to the kinds of volumes seen in the consumer markets such as mobile devices and wearables, collectively they add up.

For example, smart plugs to measure energy used by individual appliances help identify those that consume a lot of energy while active and those that consume excessive standby power. Usually installed near or in line with the residence's home automatic meter readers, they provide convenient real-time feedback to users so they can change their energy behaviour. Some smart meters offer additional functionality, including real-time or near real-time reads, power outage notification and power quality monitoring. Another type of smart meter uses nonintrusive load monitoring to automatically determine the number and type of appliances in a residence and how much energy each uses and when.

A key element in all such power-monitoring applications is power-factor measurements. Power factor is the ratio of real power to apparent power. It has long been a concern for power companies and is now a factor in consumer and home electronics where both U.S. and European governments require power factor correction be incorporated into any consumer product.

MCP39F511 inside an AC/DC power supply

A common connection method for implementing the MCP39F511 inside an AC/DC power supply uses a shunt resistor for measuring current.

As a result, even home owners are starting to use devices that introduce more reactive-power loads into the mix as energy-efficient lights, such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and LED-based lights containing their own AC/DC lighting ballasts. The power factor has moved from the realm of large-scale industrial motors down to that of consumer electronics.

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