What Is Power Electronics? (+ How to Start a Career in It)

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Learn about power electronics applications, examples, and careers.

[Featured Image] Two power electronics engineers examine documents in front of electrical equipment.

What is power electronics? 

Power electronics is a multidisciplinary branch of electrical engineering. It focuses on processing, controlling, and converting electric power. Power electronics utilizes high voltages and currents to deliver power to electrical equipment and devices. These devices range from air conditioning systems in homes to industrial machinery. Worldwide, over 80 percent of generated power is reprocessed or repurposed through power electronic systems [1]. 

How do power electronics work?

Power electronic systems convert electrical energy from one form to another. This process may involve modifying the voltage, current, or frequency. It ensures the flow of electricity is suitable for user loads. The goal of power electronics is to achieve maximum efficiency and reliability at the lowest possible cost, weight, and size. Here are a few power electronics components:

  • Power diodes. A diode is a semiconductor device. It enables the flow of electric current in one direction by having low resistance to current in one direction and extremely high resistance in the other. Diodes are used as voltage regulators, signal modulators, and to convert alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC). 

  • Transistors. Transistors are also semiconductor devices. These are used to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power. 

  • GTO. A Gate Turn-Off Thyristor, or GTO, is a high-powered semiconductor switching device. It is characterized by its gate turn-off capability. GTOs can also turn on the main current with a gate drive circuit. 

Power electronics applications and examples

Power electronics applications are prevalent in daily life. You've likely used a device that relies on power electronics engineering today. The chart below outlines a few industries that use power electronics with examples.

Power electronics applicationsExamples

Consumer electronics

Air conditioning systems, emergency lights, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, laptops, cell phones

Industrial

Textile mills, welding equipment, excavators, cement mills

Transportation

Hybrid vehicles, subways, ships, trolleys

Aerospace and defense

Aircraft and missile control, satellites, space shuttles

Energy

Solar cell conversion systems and wind turbines

Careers in power electronics

Power electronics engineers belong to the occupational field of architecture and engineering. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), architecture and engineering jobs are projected to grow 6 percent between 2020 and 2030 [2]. This statistic translates into about 146,000 new jobs, most of which can be attributed to engineering. Factors contributing to job growth in engineering include growing interest in areas like robotics and renewable energy. 

Power electronics engineering

If you’re interested in starting a career in power electronics, you may consider becoming a power electronics engineer. Power electronics engineer is a broad title that encompasses several specializations. Specific job duties vary depending on the industry, but the responsibilities below apply to most power electronics engineering roles:

  • Design and test circuits for use in power electronic systems.

  • Enhance existing mechanical designs.

  • Perform research to develop solutions for known issues like power loss and overall inefficiency.

  • Maintain documentation of designs and specifications.

  • Collaborate with other engineers and departments for testing and development.

Related roles and job titles

  • Test engineer, power electronics

  • Power electronics design release engineer

  • Electrical engineer, power electronics

  • Research and development (R&D) engineer, power electronics

  • Power electronics manufacturing engineer

  • Electrical design engineer, power electronics

Power electronics engineer salary

The average salary for a power electronics engineer in the US is $87,471 per year [3]. Power electronics engineers also report a yearly average additional pay of $25,604. Additional income encompasses bonuses, commissions, and profit-sharing. Combined, these figures equal a total estimated annual pay of $113,075. 

How to get a job in power electronics

Seventy-six percent of electrical engineers hold a bachelor's degree, and 12 percent hold a master's degree [4]. Relevant areas of study include electrical engineering and computer engineering. One example of a degree for aspiring optical engineers to pursue is a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering

DID YOU KNOW? The University of Colorado Boulder also offers the nine-month online course Power electronics graduate certificate, which counts toward degree credit. 

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Gain the essential skills.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of technical and workplace skills for power electronics engineers. Consider using it to identify areas of focus for building your expertise. 

  • Strong knowledge of power electronics systems and principles like AC/DC conversion, AC converters, DC-DC converters, and grid-connected converters

  • Experience with power electronics equipment such as variacs, power analyzers, and oscilloscopes

  • Understanding of safety procedures for working with hazardous voltage and current levels

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills

  • High-level analytical skills

  • Ability to work independently as well as in a team environment

  • Experience with design and real-time simulation (RTS) tools such as MATLAB

  • Capability to translate operational specifications into hardware requirements

Enhance your resume. 

There are many methods for ensuring recruiters notice your resume. For example, consider matching the words you use to describe your skill set to the language employers use in job postings. Employers often use applicant tracking systems (ATS). These systems enable recruiters to filter resumes and applications via keywords to process candidates quickly. You have a higher chance of selection when your terms match the terms employers have input in their ATS. Read nine additional ways to enhance your resume in the below article. 

Read more: 10 Ways to Enhance Your Resume

Stay current with the industry. 

You can demonstrate your expertise to employers while staying up-to-date with industry trends by engaging with the power electronics community. Following industry leaders on social media and subscribing to relevant YouTube channels and blogs are excellent ways to get started. For more information regarding experts in the power electronics field, you might check the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) website

Learn more about power electronics with Coursera.

Ready to continue expanding your knowledge of power electronics? Enroll in the Power Electronics Specialization offered by the University of Colorado Boulder today.

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specialization

Power Electronics

Expand your Engineering Excellence. Create modern power electronics systems for our devices, transportation and infrastructure.

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Skills you'll build:

Understand the fundamentals of magnetic components including inductors and transformers, Design and optimize inductors and transformers for switched-mode power converters, Analyze and model losses in magnetic components

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Article sources

1. NC State University. “Power Electronics and Power Systems, https://ece.ncsu.edu/research/pes/#:~:text=Power%20electronics%20is%20the%20engineering,form%20of%20power%20electronic%20systems.” Accessed August 18, 2022. 

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Architecture and Engineering Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/home.htm.” Accessed August 18, 2022.

3. Glassdoor. “How much does a Power Electronics Engineer make? https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/power-electronics-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,26.htm.” Accessed August 18, 2022. 

4. Zippia. “Power electronics engineer education requirements, https://www.zippia.com/electrical-engineer-jobs/education/.” Accessed August 18, 2022.

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