ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
ECE News

Commercializing Photovoltaic Inverters

The Future Energy Electronics Center (FEEC) has received a $148,000 grant from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology to commercialize photovoltaic technology developed in its laboratory. Commercialization efforts will involve further technology development, intellectual property licensing, and setting up a pre-production facility.

Jason Lai’s team developed the ultrahigh efficiency inverter technology under a $3.2 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE). They now plan to increase the efficiency from approximately 95 percent to greater than 99 percent and decrease the cost from approximately $1 per Watt to $0.10 per Watt.

The efficiency will increase with the adoption of Virginia Tech’s proprietary soft-switching techniques, Lai explains, while “the cost reduction will be achieved through highly integrated design and collaboration with the semiconductor industry.” The FEEC has already developed an inverter with 99.3 percent efficiency as well as “related power-conditioning systems [that] have built-in communication lines and digital computing capabilities that can be further developed into the ‘brain’ of an intelligent, controllable power grid,” notes Lai.

The product will also be tested as part of the project, and once it is fully developed, the researchers will set up a pre-production facility and spin off a company to finish commercializing the inverters. According to Lai, “the ultimate goal is to create high-tech jobs with the PV inverter technology...We project at least 300 high paying jobs will be created in five years with this project.”

Better and cheaper photovoltaic inverters are on their way.