FPGA Technology and Software IP in Power Electronics Applications

Altera FPGA for Solar Power Inverter applications

An Altera variation on the last post is presented here. This article is based on the work of students from Yuan Ze University in Taiwan.

Solar energy is becoming increasingly attractive as we grapple with global climate changes. However, while solar energy is free, non-polluting, and inexhaustible, solar panels are traditionally fixed. As such, they cannot take advantage of maximum sunlight as weather conditions and seasons change. This article describes an FPGA- and embedded processor-based system-on-a-chip (SOC) implementation of a prototypical solar-tracking electricity generation system that improves the efficiency of solar panels by allowing them to align with the sun’s movements.”

Xilinx FPGA for Solar Power Inverter applications

Many factors are currently pushing toward a technolgy-shift in power generation management :

- expected long-term increase of energy prices

- increase of green regulations such as the Kyoto protocol

- public pressure and customer awareness toward clean energy

- decrease of cheap oil ressources

- increase of world population and increase of the quality of life

- smart grid, etc…

It is well known that flexible-hardware characteristics of FPGAs is giving more freedom to designers to push their designs to the limits of their applications, hence generating or delivering a maximum amount of Watts in an enhanced system operating range. This is what a team of Jamshedpur, India, attempted to do in recent works on Solar Power inverter applications presented in this article :

In the present study, the Pulse width modulated (PWM) adaptive intelligent Power converter (inverter) has been designed and developed where the input DC power stored in the battery bank obtained through PV and/or Grid sources, has been digitized to produce a sequence of PWM pulses (approximate to a sine wave) at the output of power converter and deliver power to the load.”

Altera FPGA and Energy-Efficient Motor Control IP

Here’s a recent article published in Industrial Embedded Systems magazine on the topic of using FPGA to increase flexibility of design, power savings are costs reduction. The article has been written by Jason Chiang, Sr. Technical Marketing Manager Industrial Business Unit, Altera Corporation.

This article has a couple of interesting points regarding the use of Motor Control IP to reduce overall system costs (which is certainly a disadvantage of FPGA chips being more expensive than traditionnal MCU/DSP chips) :

Motor control IP is designed to provide a very high-performance interchangeable platform. The practical motor control IP for an application is achieved by selecting and integrating the right combination of IP. FPGAs are flexible and can support many types of communications protocols, motor control IP, and industrial I/O interfaces on one device or platform.

Another advantage of implementing the motor control IP (and network connectivity) on the FPGA is that it mitigates the risk of product obsolescence. With long product life cycles, FPGAs are built with industrial longevity, system flexibility, and reliability in mind. Designers can modify their systems or migrate to new generations of FPGAs with ease. Contrast this methodology to MCUs or DSPs, which require intensive software resources and involve long development cycles when moving to a new processor architecture to update any hardware features.”

Actel Mixed-signal FPGA introduction for Motor Control

Here’s an interesting online tutorial presented by the famous Clive ‘Max’ Maxfield introducing Actel Fusion mixed-signal FPGA and how they can useful for Motor Control applications. A general introduction on FPGAs is presented for people that aren’t familiar with this type of technology (which typically the case for motor control system designers).

Hurry up : this tutorial is only available until August 15th 2009 !

Actel Fusion FPGA and Motor Control

Here is an interesting article from Kevin Morris on Actel Fusion FPGA where built-in analog programmable properties fits particularly well for control applications such as Motor Control. Here are some highlights :

Fusion has been around for awhile now, and it seems to be finding a unique groove in the industry. Applications such as smart motor control take advantage of the family’s particular combination of features and properties and provide solid economic justification for their design-in. Happily, this kind of application is also directly in line with Actel’s power-centric mantra of the past couple of years.

On top of that, however, they are now pushing their devices into applications where much more than the power consumption of the FPGA is at stake. Applications like system power management and motor control promise to save far more energy than just the difference in FPGA power consumption. Since Actel’s devices occupy the lower density ranges (compared with the big SRAM FPGAs), they fit nicely into these types of applications. You will often today see an Actel device doing the power management on a board that also boasts big Virtex or Stratix devices.”

“By including domain-specific IP, reference designs, and carefully-crafted development boards, many designers can get to a working application that does 90% of what they need without ever writing a line of HDL or messing with a single synthesis or place-and-route option. For a design team whose mission may be something like “motor control” and whose expertise lies in areas like analog signal optimization, motor performance and efficiency, and software control algorithms – this can make the difference between designing in an FPGA and steering clear”