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Shrink the Solar Power Inverter and Google Will Pay You $1 Million

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Monday July 28th, 2014 | 12 Comments

LITTLE_BOX_POWER_INVERTER_GOOGLE_2What’s the size of a clunky ice cooler and essential to that off-grid lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of? If you guessed a solar power inverter, then you may be just the techie Google is hoping to hear from. At a time when computers can fit in the palm of your hand and miniaturized pacemakers can be less than 42 millimeters in size and less than 2 cubic centimeters in volume, it may seem surprising that we’re still dealing with solar inverters that can be as big as your grandmother’s knitting chest.

Google’s Green Team has come up with an ingenious answer: Offer what every hobby industrialist has always wanted — $1 million for the guy or gal that can come up with a way to shrink the technology.

For those who are unacquainted with power inverters, it’s that essential piece of equipment that allows us to actually utilize the power we gain through the solar panels or wind turbines. It converts the direct current (DC) that’s stored from say, a solar array, to the alternating current (AC) we use to power appliances.

Reducing the size of the power inverter would not only make it easier to install solar panels in isolated, undeveloped areas of the world, like Central America or India, but will also invariably open the door to better, smaller forms of renewable energy.

Google admits that the task won’t be easy. After all, if its techies haven’t come up with the know-how to shrink a small box down to the size of a tablet or IPad, chances are the task will take some ingenuity.

“There will be obstacles to overcome; like the conventional wisdom of engineering,” admits Eric Raymond, from Google’s Green Team.

He explains in a blog post on EVNewsReport:

“We want to shrink it down to the size of a small laptop, roughly one-tenth of its current size. Put a little more technically, we’re looking for someone to build a kW-scale inverter with a power density greater than 50 watts per cubic inch.”

power_inverter_Lauren_WellicomeInterested candidates need to register their team by Sept. 30.

More  deets:

  • Once registered, teams will have until July 22, 2015 to submit their technical approach and testing application.
  • Approximately 18 finalists will be notified in October 2015 to bring their tiny inverters to the testing facility by Oct. 21, 2015.
  • The winning team will be announced in January 2016.

More helpful information can be found on Google Green’s Little Box page, including a list of wide bandgap semiconductor manufacturers and related information for candidates. There’s also a FAQ page with specifics about who owns the intellectual property, etc.

Grants are available to academic institutions that take up the challenge. “We’re expecting university teams and private companies,” says Google, “but we’d love anyone with a good idea to throw their hat in the ring.”

Image: Google – Little Box Challenge

Power inverter: Lauren Wellicome


▼▼▼      12 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.enviroequipment.com Enviro Equipment, Inc.

    Say what you want about Google but when it comes to promoting eco-friendly technologies, they put their money where their mouth is.

    Having said that, $10 million would’ve been even better by providing more incentive.

  • fixitup

    The biggest problem I can see in trying to down size the Inverter is the potential Electric Load the inverter has to handle. Smaller would be nice but when converting Direct Current to Alternating Current SIZE matters when it comes to the potential total amount of energy you have to pass through the Inverter. Smaller=less pass through; Larger Inverter=More pass through current. I don’t know how they could make it smaller?

    • blaghged

      meta materials

      • fixitup

        Could be. Although probably cost prohibitive at this point for what they want to accomplish at a reasonable price.

  • Thor Norseman

    Don’t be fooled… Google is on a tech hunt…. If someone can accomplish this task I suggest taking it to the patent office and find an angel…. Check the fine print of the contest carefully

  • Marc Edwards

    This article is stupid, Enphase has had micro-inverters for several years, they are about the size of an ipad mini, they attach to each solar panel, so that each panel operates independently and the whole system isn’t affected if a single panels output is reduced..
    I have 30 panels, with 30 micro-inverters, 25 year warranty on each panel and each inverter, a single inverter system usually only carries a 5-year warranty on the inverter..
    My inverters are 2 years old, the new generation Enphase inverters are even smaller than mine..
    The technology already exists, and the cost difference between a single inverter system and a micro-inverter system is negligible, about $30/per panel.

    • J_N_Lee

      Thanks Marc for the comments. While Enphase’s products are smaller than the image portrayed above (which is for anecdotal purpose only and not a complete reflection of all sizes of inverters), I don’t think that is the size they are talking about. I believe Google is aiming even smaller than that.

  • Michael Rahe

    Perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at a way to make an inverter smaller. Maybe we should be working it backwards instead. Lets make our appliances and such work on voltages lower than the current 220 vac and 110 vac and more 12, 24,36 volt dc. Our RV’s have been doing this for decades now. I have been working with this set up for the past 5 years with great results. There are a surprising number of 12 vdc or alternative powered appliances on the market now. I so far have almost (almost) all of the necessities of life covered.

  • disqus_7lEAhytOR7

    You spend your time and money inventing something, we’ll pay you 1 million, and we’ll make billions. That’s what google is actually doing.

  • htmguy

    Its doable. With higher efficiency designs the electronics get smaller and cooler (temp!). The problem with the $1M booty is that it alienates companies and focuses on individuals. There aren’t that many linear-savy EEs that know their way around inverter and inductor esoterica. For most it’s considered an art. One problem with the current designs is that they are dated but copied over and over. Time will eventually yield smaller and more efficient designs. And no, lower voltage does the opposite; increases conductor sizes and reduces efficiency (response to another poster)

  • John Hait

    See my latest book at http://advanced-how-to.info/ebooks/ free.

    This is already old stuff

    • J_N_Lee

      Thanks John for your comment. But I suspect Google’s looking for something a bit different. What size is your hand-held inverter?