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Future Energy Electronics Center Team Places 3rd In Google Inverter Competition | ECE | Virginia Tech

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Future Energy Electronics Center Team Places 3rd In Google Inverter Competition

Lanhua Zhang, Professor Jason Lai, Rachael Born, and Xiaonan Zhao at the Google Little Box Challenge

Lanhua Zhang, Professor Jason Lai, Rachael Born, and Xiaonan Zhao at the Google Little Box Challenge

A team from the Future Energy Electronics Center, part of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech, took third place in Google's $1 Million Little Box Challenge.

Jin-Sheng (Jason) Lai, the James S. Tucker Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, brought together a team to compete in the challenge to drastically decrease the size of a power inverter. The team was one of 18 finalists whose inverters were chosen for testing at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Energy Systems Integration Facility in Golden, Colorado.

FEEC team during Google's Little Box Challenge

FEEC team during Google's Little Box Challenge

FEEC's team was the only university team to finish in the top three.

Inverters take direct current from solar panels and batteries and convert it to the type of alternating current used in homes. These devices are generally about the size of a picnic cooler. Google and IEEE held the competition to develop far smaller inverters.

"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," Google said on the Little Box Challenge website.

Of the 2,000-plus teams that registered for the competition, more than 80 qualified for review by the IEEE Power Electronics Society and Google. The 18 finalists were chosen after that review.

The inverters from the three finalists made it through a 100-hour simulation of real-life conditions that included the kind of rapid power cycling a solar power system would experience on an intermittently cloudy day.

FEEC team during Google's Little Box Challenge

FEEC team during Google's Little Box Challenge

Lai's team was invited to the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., where the winners were announced on Feb. 29. Student team members include Lanhua Zhang (PhD '16), Xiaonan Zhao (MS '15, PhD '18) and Rachael Born (MS '16). The team also received technical support on thermal modeling and electromagnetic interference measurements from their partners including Industrial Technology Research Institute and Rhymebus Corp, both from Taiwan; VPT Inc., Blacksburg; and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.