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NREL to Test Inverters for the “Little Box Challenge” Presented by Google and IEEE

September 22, 2014 in EV News, Greentech, Politics, Solar

Energy Systems Integration Facility Photo courtesy of NREL

Energy Systems Integration Facility
Photo courtesy of NREL

The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will test power inverters submitted to the Little Box Challenge 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, CO, 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 Energy Systems Integration Facility was designed as a user facility with the goal to bring in partners, such as Google, to work on disruptive, cutting-edge technology,” said Martha Symko-Davies, who manages partnerships for the lab’s Energy Systems Integration programs. “We are excited to play a significant role in Google’s challenge to the industry.”

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 would enable more solar-powered homes, more efficient distribution grids, and help bring electricity to remote areas.

ESIF is the newest Energy Department user facility and the only one in the nation focused on integration of clean energy resources into the electric grid at utility scale. Researchers at ESIF collaborate with industry and utilities to design and analyze the systems and components needed to enable economic, reliable integration of clean electricity, fuel production, energy storage, and building efficiency technologies into the energy infrastructure.

Applicants intending to compete for the prize 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.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

This article is a repost, credit: NREL.

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