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As the climate crisis dominates headlines and amid its savage effects on our weather, the renewable energy industry shapes up as one of its most important combatants.
Burning fossil fuels accounts for more than three-quarters of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN, and non-renewables currently make up 80% of the world's energy supply.
Advancements in technology now mean that solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal electricity production are now possible. Battery technology continues to lead progress in the road transport market, where EVs are becoming more commonplace.
Underpinning this technology are printed circuit boards, small components that control the majority of electronic devices on the planet.
In this article, we will investigate how PCBs are effective in the renewable energy sector and whether they can make their own progress towards a more sustainable future.
What are PCBs?
A PCB is a part of an electronic device that holds all the various components to make it work.
Resistors, sensors, capacitors, transistors, diodes and more are mounted onto a board, with current flowing through them all to operate a device. PCBs can be made of toughened materials such as fibreglass or flexible materials, depending on requirements.
They can be multi-layered, common in renewable energy applications, to allow for greater complexity and better communication between different systems within a single device and other connected appliances.
PCB specifications for the renewable energy industry
PCBs have overtaken rivalling methods of circuitry in just about every field of electronics, but renewable energy poses specific challenges that push them to their limits.
- Signal reliability: Renewable energy applications are often high-noise and high-power environments, both of which can have detrimental impacts on signals passing through circuits. Multilayer PCBs act as a solution here, improving performance without developers having to compromise on space.
- Resistant materials: Harsh climactic environments are common with water, wind and heat all giving PCBs a physical test. A well-designed and constructed PCB will be compact enough to absorb these challenges, while tough materials also ensure longevity.
- Load management: Huge amounts of power are transferred in renewable energy stations, both to make machinery work and then to generate and store power. The scalability of PCBs means that they can be adapted and improved to the changing needs of the industry.
Where are PCBs used in the renewable energy industry?
If a device is electronic or controlling the flow or storage of electricity, it's highly likely that PCBs are at work to make it happen.
- Solar: As solar panels convert energy from the sun's rays into electricity, PCBs are at work controlling the flow of current and managing power loads to maintain optimal performance. They also help to control temperature levels when the panels are working at maximum capacity.
- Wind: PCBs help manage power generation from a windmill's motor as well as direct the storage of electricity. PCBs will also be used to monitor the performance of individual windmills to prevent system overload.
- Hydropower: The flexibility and scalability of PCBs can be in huge hydropower facilities and smaller consumer models, where they help to maximise returns on energy. PCBs' compact nature and ability to withstand physically demanding environments is also key.
- Geothermal: That toughness also helps in geothermal settings where PCBs can withstand higher temperatures and even work to disperse heat away from crucial systems to keep them running at maximum performance.
What are the advantages of using PCBs?
- Mass production: With the need for renewable energy growing swiftly, PCBs can be produced at a massive scale to meet that demand.
- Adaptable to any needs: Size, shape, rigidity or flexibility. The beauty of PCB design is that there are no limits to what is possible.
- Greater efficiency: Their compact nature makes PCBs incredibly efficient at transferring data and power, ideal for these applications.
How will PCBs and renewables change in the future?
Mass-production of PCBs and the requirements of the energy industry for greater sustainability present something of a dichotomy now.
As they are present in such vast numbers of appliances and devices, PCBs can be seen as a major contributor to the world's e-waste problem.
Plans are afoot to help ease this pressure, however, with PCBs created on paper one solution that is gaining traction in the industry. Electronic recycling and renewable energy also have a close bond and could see appliances of the past used to create the clean energy that powers a brighter future.
Why choose DesignSpark's bespoke PCB service?
If you're working on a renewables project and need bespoke PCBs for your systems, look no further than DesignSpark's end-to-end solution.
- Flexible subscriptions: We offer three subscription tiers to customers to help design and create PCBs. Our free Explorer plan allows you to work with an unlimited number of schematic sheets and PCB layers.
We also offer two paid plans which include extra installed copies. Creator provides you with an integrated SnapEDA CAD library and advanced DRC checks. Our premium Engineer plan adds advanced features such as hierarchical schematic designs, blind and buried vias, and IPC-2581 output.
Check out our subscriptions page for the full details.
- No size limits: Whether you're involved in a gigantic wind farm or creating something on a smaller scale for home use, we can help. Even if you just subscribe to our free-of-charge Explorer account, you can create a PCB to whatever specifications you need.
- Detailed BOM: Your Bill of Materials will list all parts, items and assemblies that your PCB is made of. Then it's up to you if you want to complete your purchase with us or take the specification elsewhere.
- Ease of use: Not a CAD expert? Don't worry. We've designed our system to be as intuitive as can be so it's simple to create the PCBs you need. If you run into difficulty, browse our comprehensive library of tutorial videos or reach out to our experts for help.
- Extensive library: Our ready-to-use libraries include a huge number of designs, symbols and footprints. Or if you know your requirements already, you can start from scratch.
Login or register today to get started creating PCBs with DesignSpark.