“These are golden times for us”
When Peter Wawer explains his business, he likes to use comparisons: A laptop power supply consumes around 60 watts, a hair dryer between one and two kilowatts and one ICE 4 a good 11 megawatts, i.e. 11,000 kilowatts. Wind turbines on the open sea (offshore) are sometimes larger than Cologne Cathedral, the diameter of their rotors can quickly reach the dimensions of an Airbus, and according to today’s standards, they can each deliver an output of up to 15 megawatts – enough to power around 20,000 households to be supplied with electricity per year.
There are just a few hurdles. “It’s about switching these services with as little loss as possible,” says Peter Wawer, who works for the chip manufacturer Infineon responsible for the field of industrial power electronics. Power semiconductors are the chips that can precisely control the electric currents. Wawer speaks of power density and resistance to load changes, of high-performance converters, dynamic operating behavior and sometimes refers to a water tap that is either open or closed even under high pressure – and then should under no circumstances drip. This requires one thing above all: reliable technology. Transferred to a pinwheel. does that mean it needs reliable chips.
Systems in the long-term stress test
Infineon is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of these small electronic components. The Dax group from Neubiberg on the outskirts of Munich has specialized, among other things, in so-called power semiconductors for renewable energies. In view of the persistently high demand for chips for cars, industrial and, above all, energy systems, the Management Board has just raised its earnings forecasts for the current financial year. He now expects proceeds of significantly more than the previously forecast 15.5 billion euros. As a result, investors on the stock exchange drove the share price up by more than 12 percent to 37 euros.
Historically, Wawer’s division actually comes from industry, as it supplies the small electronic components, for example for controlling electric motors. However, the business with renewables is currently growing faster than previously thought. “Out of 100 wind turbines, about half are made of Infineon semiconductors,” he says. To take this into account, his division will be renamed “Green Industrial Power” in April. After all, the group is hoping for further major growth in this area. “These are golden times for us now. Renewable energies were there before, but now the turbo is being ignited,” he says. In some areas, Infineon can hardly save itself from demand.
Why are renewables bringing so much new business to Infineon? “In conventional fossil energy generation, there is actually no need for chips, so our rounded share is 0 euros. In wind power, on the other hand, the chip share is between 2,000 and 3,000 euros per megawatt, in photovoltaics between under 1,000 and around 5,000 euros per megawatt, depending on the size of the system,” explains the energy and chip specialist from Infineon.
Wawer does the math: According to today’s standards, a large wind turbine at sea generates up to 15 MW and is located in a park with dozens of such wind turbines. For comparison: A large conventional power plant has an output of around one gigawatt, i.e. 1000 megawatts. In addition, a converter station is needed at sea, into which the electricity generated by all the wind turbines flows and is converted there in order to transport it over the distance with as little loss as possible, where it is converted back to another converter station and fed into the grid.
In order to reliably control all these processes, it is necessary semiconductor, i.e. chips. “That’s a total of millions of euros just for the semiconductors,” says Wawer. The electronics only make up around 10 percent of the investment volume for a wind turbine at sea. Installing such wind turbines is, for various reasons, a lot more expensive than putting them on land on a more or less windy hill.