Cheaper and smaller inverters for solar panels

March 29, 2006
Cheaper and smaller inverters for solar panels
Cheaper and smaller inverters for solar panels

New technology could enable people to generate their own power economically at home and then feed it into the national grid on a very small scale. Cuauhtemoc Rodriguez, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, has come up with a new generation of cheaper and smaller inverters for solar panels which can be plugged into standard electricity sockets.

He was awarded the Millennium Medal and Prize by Dr Brian Iddon MP at a reception at the House of Commons as part of the UK National Science Week 2006 Annual Presentations by Britain's Top Younger Scientists, Engineers and Technologists. More than 150 PhD students were shortlisted to present their research results at this prestigious event. Cuauhtemoc's winning presentation was titled 'Modular Photovoltaic Systems for Embedded Generation'.

The focus of the research is on the development of new electronic systems for efficient power conversion, in particular the problem of efficiently converting solar generated power so that it can be continuously fed into the standard domestic AC electricity supply. The output power from solar panels is DC (similar to that from chemical batteries) so an electronic interface is essential to convert it into electricity at 220 - 240 V 50 Hz AC whilst controlling variations in sunshine levels. The energy output from solar panels changes continuously as the level of light varies during the day. To maintain high efficiency when the power output from the solar panels is low is particularly challenging. Most solar installations which are connected to the grid need to be at least 1kW to ensure overall system efficiency can be maintained even in low sunlight conditions.

Cuauhtemoc's research is aimed at breaking this limit while maintaining high efficiency, to allow much smaller solar installations of around 100 W, requiring much smaller capital investment, to be connected to the electricity grid. Previous devices would need at least five solar panels to work whereas this technology only requires one. The reduced size, easy connectivity and integrated conversion unit allow these solar panels to be plugged into a standard power socket in a domestic building. Instead of drawing power from the socket, power will be fed into the system. The research has the potential to change how we generate our electrical energy, giving householders the opportunity to be electric power generators as well as consumers. Electric power generation using photovoltaic cells can thus become a truly consumer-driven technology.

Professor Gehan Amaratunga, Head of Electronics, Power and Energy Conversion in the Electrical Enginering Division , said: "Cuauhtemoc has made an outstanding contribution to the development and realization of this concept, as recognized by this award. This is very pleasing for us as the panel of judges recognized the significance of the modular photovoltaic panel concept for grid connection through the use of intelligent and efficient electronics. This is a concept which we have been pioneering since 1999." The work has been supported by Enecsys, a spin out company formed by two of Professor Amaratunga's former students at the Department of Engineering, Asim Mumtaz and Lesley Chisenga, to commercialise the small scale grid-connected solar panel concept which enables modular expansion of solar generation in an 'organic' manner.

Cuauhtemoc was one of five students from University of Cambridge sponsored by the Cambridge Environmental Initiative to attend the competition, which is organised annually by the SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) organisation for Britain as part of National Science Week.

Source: University of Cambridge

Explore further: India backs solar as Paris climate talks loom

Related Stories

India backs solar as Paris climate talks loom

September 29, 2015

Under a blistering sun, workers install a sea of solar panels in a north Indian desert as part of the government's clean energy push —- and its trump card at upcoming climate change talks in Paris.

How much energy does NYC waste?

September 29, 2015

New York is the most wasteful megacity in the world according to a 2015 report on the per capita energy consumption of 27 global megacities.

Regular dusting bolsters solar panel performance

September 23, 2015

Perth residents who are the proud custodians of solar panels could boost the amount of power that the arrays produce over an extended period of time by simply removing dust particles from the panels.

Opportunity Mars rover preparing for active winter

September 26, 2015

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is conducting a "walkabout" survey of "Marathon Valley," where the rover's operators plan to use the vehicle through the upcoming Martian winter, and beyond, to study the context ...

Recommended for you

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

Excavations at the site of one of the Spanish conquistadors' worst defeats in Mexico are yielding new evidence about what happened when the two cultures clashed—and a native people, at least temporarily, was in control.

ZomBee Watch helps scientists track honeybee killer

October 9, 2015

While scientists have documented cases of tiny flies infesting honeybees, causing the bees to lurch and stagger around like zombies before they die, researchers don't know the scope of the problem.

Using optical fiber to generate a two-micron laser

October 9, 2015

Lasers with a wavelength of two microns could move the boundaries of surgery and molecule detection. Researchers at EPFL have managed to generate such lasers using a simple and inexpensive method.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.