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Jan Lee headshot

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

Words by Jan Lee

What'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.”

Interested 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

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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