Google Offers $1 Million to Shrink Power Conversion

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014
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The company behind the world’s biggest search engine hopes to change the future of electricity usage by fostering the development of a miniaturised power inverter.

Internet giant Google is offering a cash prize of $1 million to an engineer who can develop a method for drastically reducing the dimensions of traditional power inverters to something roughly on par with a laptop in size.

Power inverters, which are used to convert DC power to AC power, serve the highly useful function of converting energy generated by solar and wind facilities, or even stored within electrical vehicles (DC), into something which can be utilised by the average household (AC).

The devices remain comparatively clunky even several decades after the start of the Internet Era, and in their most compact form are still approximately the size of picnic coolers.

Google believes a smaller and portable version of the device could change the future of electricity by making the deployment of power more flexible and facilitating the usage of renewable energy. Potential applications include helping to establish low-cost micro grids in remote areas, or using the energy stored in electric vehicles to power indoor lights and appliances in the case of blackouts.

To this end, Google’s $1 million Little Box Challenge is requesting that enterprising members of the electrical engineering profession develop a kW-scale inverter measuring at least a tenth the size of a conventional device, while also possessing a power density in excess of 50 watts per cubic inch.

Google, which is staging the competition in collaboration with the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), has already provided a helpful technical clue to aspiring prize-winners. The company believes that wide band gap semiconductors capable of greater power densities are the most likely solution to the dilemma of inverter minimisation.

The Internet giant appears to be in a rush to capitalise on the potential of such a device, setting the deadline of September 30 for the registration of entrants, and making July 2015 the final date for the submission of proposals. In October of the same year, Google will issue invitations to 18 finalists to deliver and test their inventions, with a grand prize winner announced sometime in January.

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