Energy Efficiency

Google Looks to Wideband Gaps for Little (Inverter) Boxes

Google, Inc. has announced its “Little Box Challenge” with the support of the IEEE Power Electronics Society. The Little Box Challenge, with a $1,000,000 prize, is an open competition to use wideband gap (WBG) power semiconductors to build a photovoltaic power inverter that is less than one-tenth the size of today's products. This challenge is being supported by several companies including: Cree, Inc., Efficient Power Conversion Corp., GaN Systems, Monolithic Semiconductor, Inc., NXP Semiconductors, ROHM Semiconductor, Transphorm, Inc. and United Silicon Carbide, Inc. Each of these WBG device manufacturers have made pages describing their technology, how it might enable contestants to win the competition and opportunities for obtaining some of their devices.

"Inverters are the essential boxes that take direct current from devices such as solar panels and batteries and turn it into alternating current for use in homes, businesses, and cars. The problem is household inverters are too big-roughly the size of a picnic cooler. Making them smaller would enable more solar-powered homes, more efficient distributed electrical grids, and could help bring electricity to the most remote parts of the planet," challenges the announcement from Google.

"That's where you come in: figure out how to shrink an inverter down to something smaller than a small laptop (a reduction of > 10- in volume) and smaller than everyone else, and you'll win a million dollars (and help revolutionize electricity for the next century)," the challenge promises.

Google is not requiring any IP or licenses be granted except a non-exclusive license to be used only for the purpose of testing the inverter and publicizing the prize. Google want entrants to benefit themselves through the advancements they make in order to help grow an advanced power electronics ecosystem.

However, in the spirit of advancing this power electronics community, Google may choose to make public some or all of the teams' high-level technical approach documents. These documents outline the key innovations used to overcome the problems which currently limit high power density in inverters. They do not need to reveal any IP. The desire is to show the world what techniques are possible in creating a new-generation of power electronics.

The Little Box Challenge
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