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Google Offers $1M for Small-Scale Power Inverter

July 24, 2014 By Karen Henry

google-sign-energy-manageCan you take a big box and shrink it into a little box? That’s the question Google has posed to the engineering masses in its Little Box Challenge. The search engine giant is looking for a better—and smaller—power inverter.

Specifically, Google, in conjunction with IEEE, is looking for someone who can build a kW-scale inverter with a power density greater than 50 W per cubic inch, and it’s offering $1 million for the best submission.

According to a Google blog post, a smaller inverter could help create low-cost microgrids in remote parts of the world, or allow lights to be powered with an electric car battery during a blackout.

According to an article in Forbes, the value of such a device is key to unlocking billions of dollars of commercial value tied up in the electric power grid—especially as solar PV, batteries and similar power sources continue their rapid growth. According to a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “A Bibliometric Analysis of Distributed Generation,” inverters became the primary focus of R&D in the distributed energy space beginning in 2000, and a breakthrough in this space would revolutionize access to the electric power grid.

Google acknowledged to Forbes that such an improvement could also help its data centers to run more safely and efficiently. The technology behemoth is always on the lookout for ways to improve energy efficiency in its data centers—both through technology advancements and renewable energy investments. Last month, Google released a white paper on how it is optimizing its data center operations through the use of machine learning. Earlier this year, it signed a contract with MidAmerican Energy to supply its new Council Bluffs, Iowa, data center with up to 407 MW of wind energy.

Teams must be registered by September 15. Registered teams must submit their technical approach and testing application by July 22, 2015. Finalists are required to bring their inverters to a testing facility in the United States by October 21, 2015. The grand prize winner will be announced in January 2016.



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