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Google and the IEEE Power Electronics Society are working with NREL at the ESIF on the Little Box Challenge, an open competition challenging engineers to build smaller power inverters for use in photovoltaic (PV) power systems.
Up to 18 finalists in the Challenge will be invited to bring their inverter to the ESIF in 2015 for testing and evaluation against the contest parameters. NREL’s world-class researchers will use the state-of-the-art capabilities of the ESIF to evaluate each inverter’s efficiency and performance during tests spanning 100 hours under the same set of typical operating conditions. The test results will help Google and IEEE decide the winner of the $1 million prize, which in 2016 will go to the team that designs and builds a kilowatt-scale inverter with the highest power density and that meets the contest’s other specifications.
The goal of the Little Box Challenge is to create a smaller,more efficient power inverter. 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 PV-powered homes and more efficient distribution grids, and help bring electricity to remote areas.
NREL has joined forces with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop a plug-and-play technology that will result in newly connected solar generation being automatically "discovered" and configured by the main generation control system. NREL will perform a review of communications protocols to identify important protocols that the plug-and-play solar microgrid controller must be compatible with. CSIRO will also collaborate with multinational engineering firm ABB on the project.
NREL will perform prototype testing of the microgrid controller in the ESIF to test the hardware's ability to manage the output power of a diesel generator in the presence of a load bank and solar simulator. The effort ultimately aims to simplify the integration, accelerate the deployment, and lower the cost of solar energy in hybrid distributed generation applications using this new plug-and-play solar technology.
For more NREL success stories visit http://www.nrel.gov/technologytransfer/success_stories.html