One of the major hurdles to maximizing the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy such as solar or wind may soon be a thing of the past – the power inverters that solar panels rely on to convert DC power to usable AC power could be shrinking dramatically.
To create the "Little Box Challenge," the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has partnered with Google to offer a $1 million prize to any team or individual who can design and build a power inverter with a power density of 50 watts per inch3 while being 10 times smaller than current inverters. It must also be about the size of a large tablet and remain cool to the touch.
Smaller power inverters that produce the same amount of AC power as current models could drive down the initial price of renewable energy investment by saving on installation, production, and transportation costs. Small-scale power inverters could also be used to power microgrids, distribute energy more efficiently along the electric grid, and help electric vehicles provide power back-up in case of an outage.