Google offers $1,000,000 to shrink solar power inverter technology

solar power inverter
CC BY 1.0 Edmund Tse

Here's your opportunity to change the future of electricity. If you can miniaturize a household-sized power inverter, Google will give you a million bucks.

Solar panels and wind turbines are probably the most recognizable forms of renewable energy generation, but there's another very important piece of the clean power puzzle, and one that doesn't often get seen or acknowledged, yet could revolutionize the future of electricity.

In order to take direct current (DC), which is generated by solar or wind power, and convert it into alternating current (AC) the form needed by most household appliances, it's necessary to use a power inverter, and because inverter technology is presently only capable of doing so in a large form factor, the advent of tiny power inverters could really boost renewable energy adoption.

© Google
In order to help jumpstart solar power inverter technology, Google is ponying up $1,000,000 as a prize for the person or team who can overcome the engineering challenges of shrinking an inverter down to a tenth of their size.

"We want to shrink it down to the size of a small laptop, roughly 1/10th 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 50W per cubic inch. Do it best and we’ll give you a million bucks." - Google

Household-sized power inverters are currently about the size of a picnic cooler, which can limit how and where renewable energy generation can be effective and efficient, but if the technology that can produce a tiny power inverter is developed, it could lead to the much wider adoption of solar energy, more efficient electrical grids, and enable a whole new era of remote solar and wind deployment.

To enter the Little Box Challenge, applicants must register by September 30, 2014, and then have until July 22, 2015 to submit their technical approach and testing application. Up to 18 of the best inverter designs will be chosen to be tested at a facility in the US by October 21, 2015, and a grand prize winner will be determined in January of 2016.

Funding opportunities for this research challenge are also available for full-time faculty at qualifying universities, in the form of grants ranging from $25-30,000. More information on these is available at Google's University Relations page.

Tags: Electricity | Energy | Solar Power