Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems offer a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels, but they need to be economically viable to compete.
DC to AC power conversion, performed by inverters, can represent up to 15 per cent of the overall cost of PV systems. An inverter sized to handle the combined power from a typical residential PV installation is roughly the size of a cooler. Smaller, more cost-effective inverters will increase the adoption of clean PV energy, including in remote locations that lack power infrastructure and must rely on diesel generators. However, shrinking the size of inverters is a major technical challenge, which led Google to launch the Little Box Challenge in 2014 with a $1,000,000 prize going to the team who creates the smallest, most efficient inverter.
Ottawa-based Solantro Semiconductor Corp. designs semiconductor chipsets for distributed and scalable renewable power systems. In response to the Google Little Box Challenge, Solantro expanded the scope of its relationship with the University of Toronto to design a high-density, high-efficiency inverter platform. Using Solantro’s chipsets and Gallium Nitride (GaN) devices, the multi-disciplinary team from U of T is developing a prototype that is at least 10 times smaller than today’s state-of-the-art inverters. The project is supported by OCE’s Voucher for Innovation and Productivity II (VIP II) Program. OCE also supported the Solantro-U of T collaboration through a 2013 Technical Problem Solving project to demonstrate efficient and lightweight power converters for renewable energy, using a novel form of integrated storage which mitigates the impact of intermittent solar energy throughout the day.
Upon completion of the VIP II project in 2016, Solantro plans to expand its product offering and disrupt the industry with its highly integrated inverter platform. The company is currently participating in OCE’s TalentEdge Internship Program which is providing funding for a U of T PhD student.
Return on Innovation
- Currently employs 38 full-time people
- Secured $25 million in venture capital
- OCE investment: $85,000
OCE©2015 Last updated 10/2015