University of Maryland engineers will lead a new Department of Energy (DOE) research project aimed at lowering the cost of solar energy systems by advancing the technology of microinverters— devices that convert the direct current (DC) electricity generated by solar cells into the alternating current (AC) electricity used in homes and on the electrical grid.
A. James Clark School of Engineering Associate Professor Alireza Khaligh, department of electrical and computer engineering and the Institute for Systems Research, is the principal investigator for a new three-year, $2.37 million DOE cooperative agreement: “Compact and Low-Cost Microinverter for Residential Systems.” UMD Mechanical Engineering Professor Patrick McCluskey is the co-principal investigator. The team also includes Patrick Chapman, Ph.D., SunPower Corporation, San Jose, Calif.; and Assistant Professor Fariborz Musavi, department of electrical engineering, Washington State University Vancouver.
In its announcement the DOE said that hardware innovations are critical to address solar photovoltaic (PV) reliability challenges and drive down the cost of installing and maintaining a PV solar system. Power electronics, which convert electricity from one form to another, are the critical link between PV arrays and the electric grid. Advances in power electronics can help grid operators rapidly detect and respond to problems, protect against physical and cyber vulnerabilities, and enable consumers to manage electricity use. Advanced solar power electronics can help deliver power safely, integrate PV with storage controls, and ensure power reliability.
Khaligh’s team will focus on developing a new generation of residential system microinverters using emerging gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors. The new microinverters will have reduced costs of manufacturing and enhanced reliability thermal management and packaging. The resulting products will be commercialized by SunPower, a market leader in high performance PV systems technology for residential, commercial and power plant applications.
“There is remarkable potential for power electronics technologies to improve the reliability and flexibility of solar energy on the grid,” said Daniel Simmons, the DOE's principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “These projects represent a critical step in exploring the potential grid services such advanced technologies can provide.”
The nine research projects also will help the DOE accelerate the penetration of low-cost PV systems in the U.S.; enhance U.S. international competitiveness in this important field; and create more U.S. technology and manufacturing jobs.
About the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of solar technologies on the grid.