Energy efficiency and the quality of life megatrend

Those of us in the semiconductor industry are quite familiar with Moore's Law — the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an IC doubles about every two years. I was recently reminded by my former boss Gordon Moore that Moore's Law never said anything about power efficiency. Nevertheless, I believe we have an opportunity where electronics meets energy. Semiconductors can make many things in our everyday life more efficient. And energy efficiency is a critical issue regardless of oil price and no matter how clean we can eventually make coal. The political ramifications of where we get our oil makes efficiency a critical issue for us.

One of Gordon Moore's lesser known statements is that if any other industry performed as well as the semiconductor industry in price efficiency, today you could buy a Rolls Royce for 25 cents, drive it downtown and throw it away. That is what the semiconductor industry can bring to renewable energy and we are on our way there.

No question that on the power and efficiency front we face a lot of challenges. But they are challenges I believe the semiconductor industry can meet. And we have already started.

Consider the electronics industry as having been driven by four cycles. The first cycle was in the mainframe era and is symbolized by DRAM replacing magnetic core memory. In the second cycle, PCs drove demand. In the third, the connected PC, the Internet, and cell phones were in the driver's seat. You might say the cycle we are just completing is the gadget cycle. The one in front of us I would submit is the quality of life cycle. It is driven by megatrends largely defined by renewable energy and better health care. Many of us have been shifting our R&D over the last couple of years away from LCD TVs, video games, and gadgets, into solving these types of problems.

We will soon make many kinds of health care equipment portable instead of using energy off the grid. They will run from batteries that will be much more intelligent than ever before. Battery packs will become dramatically smart and powerful.

Today, for example, the battery packs in electric cars are normalized to the lowest performing battery in the pack so there is no chance of explosion or overcharging. In the future, smart battery packs will extend the range of electric cars and in so doing, make them viable.

In health care, today all of us can go to the drug store and pick up a blood pressure monitor for less than $50. Tomorrow, thanks to energy efficient circuits, you will be able to go to the same drug counter and pick up a heart monitoring device or perhaps even an early detector of breast cancer that tells you to go for a mammogram. You'll have devices perhaps driven by your iPod that put data online for remote viewing and diagnosis by a specialist.

You might compare where we are today in health care with the mainframe industry. It was originally almost completely centralized but evolved to the point where all of us have a computer in our pocket in the form of a cell phone that is more powerful than those early mainframes. We distributed computing power to our shirt pockets. Thanks to semiconductor technology, we can expect to distribute health care in a similar way.

We have similar opportunities with renewable energy and with solar power in particular. When National Semiconductor jumped into solar energy in 2007, it was perhaps six times more expensive to generate power with solar than with fossil fuel or coal. Now two years later it is only twice as expensive. We will continue to come down the cost curve partly due to the addition of electronics.

But I would say there needs to be a note of caution here. We in the semiconductor industry can divert R&D dollars to the energy field, but at the same time we know public policies must encourage investment in R&D and rapid adoption of new technologies. So we look forward to working with the administration and with Congress to support policies that will help realize the enormous potential available to us that will help realize energy efficiencies.

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