The past decade of rapid technological advancement has created a more connected world than ever before, where the pace of innovation continues to accelerate. Smart cities that rely on next-generation information and communication technologies (ICT) to optimize and enhance the sustainability of transportation, utilities, telecommunications, and public services are within our grasp, but we currently do not have the energy infrastructure in place to support them. Furthermore, this year’s extreme weather — from excessive heat and record lows to more frequent “once in a generation” storms — has exposed the shortcomings and inefficiencies of our country’s electrical grids, driving home the need for urgent upgrades.
To develop an electrical grid that can match current power demands, reduce wasted energy, and withstand extreme weather events — which experts predict will only become more frequent — we need to rethink the fundamental building blocks of our current grid: electronic switches, relays and circuit breakers. Our grid currently relies on components designed and developed decades ago, when our energy demands were markedly lower. The electronic relay and the circuit breaker were invented by Thomas Edison over 100 years ago, and what is used today is roughly the same technology. These critical switching components are heavy, bulky, inefficient, unreliable, and ultimately hinder efficiency gains. Some estimates claim that more than 40% - 50% of our energy is lost in these inefficiencies from the energy generation source to the point of use for that energy. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars developing sustainable and renewable energy sources only to have an enormous amount of that energy lost in these inefficiencies. Essentially, we’re relying on the equivalent of rotary phones in a 5G world.
We need both a technology that can solve the current inefficiencies of our power grid and an accelerated market deployment to facilitate immediate and economical improvements. We need a new generation of switches designed for the 21st century and beyond.
Designing small, lightweight, ultra-energy-efficient, robust and reliable switches is a hard balance to strike, yet not impossible. Menlo Micro’s Ideal Switch technology is proof. We’ve developed groundbreaking advances in material science and new breakthroughs in processing MEMS structures, along with critical development of 3D packaging techniques, to create a revolutionary electronic switch that is a thousand times faster, hundreds of times more energy efficient and up to 99% smaller in size and weight than current switch technology.
Edison began this legacy of innovation with his work at Menlo Park, which would ultimately become the company General Electric, and it’s been continued through Menlo Microsystems. Because the Ideal Switch is a conductor built in a scalable semiconductor manufacturing process, it can bring these efficiencies to market with rapid deployment over the next few years at a lower cost. It’s rare that innovations in material science can both improve upon a system and make it less expensive, but if widely adopted and implemented, the Ideal Switch has the potential to eliminate 20% of global emissions and deliver $37 billion in electricity savings by 2050.
Creating a power grid for the future requires innovation and calls for fundamentally rethinking what is possible when it comes to efficiency, speed and resilience. We shouldn’t be building our world around the limitations of our current technologies. Rather, we must develop and deploy next-generation switching technology that meets the demands of our modern world and drives future progress.