If the world is to reach the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement, semiconductor manufacturers will need to make major contributions, both in the products they produce and in improving efficiency in their own manufacturing processes.
In a previous post, I discussed the three megatrends the semiconductor industry is facing, namely: the Internet of Things (IoT), self-driving cars and the continued push for a reduction in greenhouse gases. In this post, I’ll dive into that last one, and discuss how meeting sustainability goals is actually intertwined with the first megatrend, IoT technology.
The role of semiconductors in battling climate change
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the central goal of the Paris Agreement is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Meeting that goal will require a concerted effort in all industries to improve energy efficiency. Accomplishing that, in turn, will require implementation of monitoring solutions to make energy consumption trends more clear, and software solutions that point the way to improving efficiency.
Monitoring solutions are essentially IoT applications that require lots of sensors. Those sensors generally include small, inexpensive, low-power chips produced by semiconductor manufacturers – which is where the first megatrend comes in.
These monitoring solutions will take varying forms, including building management systems (BMSs) used for commercial buildings, data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions and industrial solutions for monitoring everything from mining operations to utility facilities and manufacturing plants. But they will all require lots of sensors and chipsets, presenting both an opportunity for semiconductor manufacturers and a challenge to meet demand with reliable, cost-effective solutions.
Improving efficiency in semiconductor manufacturing
Semiconductor companies will also have to work at improving energy efficiency in their own manufacturing processes, which require enormous amounts of energy.
A typical semiconductor fabrication plant uses as much power in a year as about 50,000 homes, while larger “megafabs” can consume more electricity than auto plants and refineries, according to a McKinsey analysis.
There’s plenty of room for energy efficiency improvement, McKinsey found. Many fabs have clean room compressors and exhaust fans running above the specification for the equipment they’re intended to protect, for example, and chillers that over-cool water for air conditioning systems. Overall, the McKinsey analysis found semiconductor fabs could reduce energy consumption by 20% to 30% by applying lessons learned from other power-hungry industries.
One of those lessons involves raising the temperature of water used in cooling systems and using ambient air to cool the water rather than electricity, a strategy large data centers have been using for years.
Another is an increased use of metering, ideally for every tool in the plant or at least at the module level. “In our work, we have found the payback for installing new meters comes in one or two months. The visibility into which modules are using how much power changes behavior faster than any policy memo could,” the McKinsey report says.
Add intelligence to increase energy semiconductor efficiency
To achieve energy efficiency, all of those meters and sensors have to feed data to a BMS that has the intelligence to identify trends and areas for improvement. Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxureTM, for example, is a cloud-based platform with modules that address different industries or functions, including IT, power distribution, and plants and machines. It can not only help find ways to reduce power consumption, but also aid in process automation.
Yet another way semiconductor companies can improve energy efficiency is to invest in advanced electrical power distribution technology such as automatic transfer switches and energy efficient uninterruptible power supplies, and optimized electric distribution architectures. To learn more about that topic, download the free reference guide, “Innovative Power Solutions for Semiconductor Fabrication Efficiency.”