Google, IEEE, NREL Want Smaller Solar Inverters

September 23, 2014 By Linda Hardesty

NREL Energy ManageThe Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will test power inverters submitted to the Little Box Challenge, which is being presented by Google and the IEEE Power Electronics Society. The challenge is an open competition to build smaller power inverters for use in solar power systems. The winner of the $1 million prize will have designed and built a kilowatt-scale inverter with the highest power density – at least 50 Watts per cubic inch.

Each of the 18 finalists will be invited to bring their inverter to the Energy Department’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) on the NREL campus in Golden, Colo., for testing and evaluation against the contest parameters. NREL researchers will evaluate each inverter’s efficiency and performance during the same set of typical operating conditions spanning 100 hours. The test results will help Google decide the winner of the competition.

The goal of the Little Box Challenge is to create a smaller, cheaper power inverter – the part of the system that converts the direct current (DC) power produced by solar panels to alternating current (AC) that can be used in homes and businesses. Currently, inverters are about the size of a picnic cooler, and Google would like to see the technology shrink to the size of a small laptop computer, or smaller. Shrinking the current inverter by 10 times or more and making it cheaper to produce and install.

Applicants must register their team by September 30 on the Little Box Challenge website. The grand prize winner will be announced sometime in late 2015 or early 2016.

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