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Cutting wasted energy, at home and in industry, is an essential first step toward slowing greenhouse gas emissions—even before switching to renewable supply sources, Onsemi CEO Hassane El-Khoury said in a keynote address on renewable energy at Electronica 2022 last month.
Global warming “hasn’t slowed down,” he said. He cited the global 40 billion metric tons per year of greenhouse gas emissions and noted that more than 80% of that total is from the combined categories of electricity production, transportation, industry, and buildings.
“We all read about record temperatures every year,” El-Khoury said. “We set a new record in a different region or in the same regions. That is the lack of sustainability. That is not sustainable for us as an industry. That is the problem statement.”
In his work life, El-Khoury presides over a U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturer founded in 2020 focusing on innovative trends, including electric vehicles (EVs) and alternative energy. At home, he is a one-time owner of a car with a V-8 engine and the father of children who, he said, think lights turn off by themselves. As an individual, El-Khoury suspected he could shrink his household energy footprint with both abatement and behavioral changes.
“As a responsible company that has its own footprint, and as a responsible company that helps our customers offset and create technologies to help with this problem, I took it upon myself to say, ‘Well what am I doing about it?’” he said. “So, I bought a $100 widget that monitors energy use from my power meter. And what I found is: I use a lot of power.”
One source of waste that El-Khoury discovered in his home was power for appliances that are plugged in but not in use, what is sometimes called “always on.”
“Maybe you watch television for one or two hours, but the television is draining power 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “I never thought about it because I always live with the TV plugged in. It’s even worse than something you’re using that’s high energy. It’s leakage, wasted energy.”
With that data in hand, El-Khoury then bought smart plugs for his house so he can easily turn off everything that’s plugged in when not in use. He drastically reduced his home’s energy use and he’s still finding random things in his home that are unused, yet still plugged in.
“Everybody talks about, ‘You need to go solar’,” he said. “How about first you reduce what you need so it’s not that expensive to offset it?”
Having accomplished abatement in his home, El-Khoury next focused on behavioral change. But rather than becoming an even harder line energy policeman than he already was, he investigated ways to automate smart energy consumption.
He installed Zigbee to create a smart home network and then added smart switches, motion sensors, and temperature sensors throughout his house to automate energy-saving behavior, especially with his children who, he said, seem to think “the lights are born automatic.”
“That’s my job on the weekend: run after the kids and turn the lights off,” he quipped.
His goal was that, when someone walked into a room, the lights come on, and when someone leaves that room, the lights go off.
Then El-Khoury took a drastic personal step: giving up the car he built with a V-8 engine. “I was the person to say I would never move away from a V-8,” he said. “But I have to. It’s a big waste of energy.”
Individuals, not just big companies, must become part of the effort to reduce energy use, he said.
“It doesn’t matter what big companies do. It doesn’t matter what we all do. Unless we as individuals who cause that impact start offsetting it by changing our behavior, we’re not going to get there,” he said. “So, we can sit around and say, ‘It’s the big factories. It’s the car companies. It’s all of this.’ That’s very easy for us to say. I used to say it all the time, until I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘Well, what the heck am I doing?’ But it doesn’t negate the fact that we do have a problem as an economy. We do have a problem as a community.”
But that also does not let big companies off the hook. Running factories more efficiently requires more data, which requires more servers and more power, El-Khoury said. But he also noted the increase in power doesn’t have to proportionally match the increased scale.
“It doesn’t mean the power needs to be proportional to the scale,” he said. “We’re focusing on intelligent power with the highest efficiency that, using silicon carbide, silicon, mixed signal analog—all of these technologies that we create and that everybody uses to solve that problem more efficiently. So, when I add one server, I don’t add one unit of power. One plus one has to be equal to .5—from a power scaling standpoint, it does work.”
Speaking of silicon carbide, El-Khoury said in response to a question that, yes, it is possible to attain 100% renewable energy in manufacturing silicon carbide and other semiconductor components.
“It’s a matter of time, and look, it’s a matter of investment. We’re not going to get there for free. I can tell you how we’re looking at it for Onsemi, because, like I said, I can brag about how we enable our customers to help their footprint. We’re pushing the utility companies to start getting a higher percent (of renewables). Show me a roadmap. For me to buy power from you, show me a roadmap of how you have to have an increasing percent of the power needed coming from renewables,” he said.
“I’m not saying I’m going to have a solar panel on top of the factory. There’s not enough surface area, because it’s a lot of power. We’re doing abatement to reduce the power, and we’re working with energy companies, because they need to support using our technology in order to provide a better source of energy. So, the answer is, yes, it’s a journey, and we have to start on it. And where we are already is part of our net zero by 2040.”
Another issue is that designers, especially designers of EVs, must focus on faster charging, according to El-Khoury. “Nobody’s going to buy an EV that’s going to sit there for two hours and charge. I don’t even want to be at the gas station for two minutes. So, we have to push that boundary and get that charging must faster because that’s an adoption gate for EVs.”
Just because an often-cited target is out of reach doesn’t mean the answer is to give up, he said.
“The dream of containing (global warming) at two-and-half degrees is a pipe dream that is not attainable. That’s the unfortunate truth. Now, the fortunate part of it is we can do something about it—us as individuals, starting with me. But it’s (also) us as engineers and innovators that contribute to society in everything we do every day. It’s win-win in my view. We cannot fail.”