Utility-Scale Solar Power Converter

Cree, Inc.
Agile Direct Grid Connect Medium Voltage 4.7-13.8 kV Power Converter for PV Applications Utilizing Wide Band Gap Devices
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,000,000
Location: 
Research Triangle Park, NC
Project Term: 
01/25/2012 to 09/30/2016
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Photovoltaic (PV) solar systems convert the sun's energy into electricity, but only a small percentage of the sunlight that reaches a PV system is converted into useful electricity. This is due in part to the inefficient and failure-prone electrical components used in most PV systems today. Improving the performance of these components would lower the overall cost of PV systems--helping to make renewable solar energy cost-competitive with conventional, nonrenewable forms of electricity generation.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Cree is developing a compact, lightweight power conversion device that is capable of taking utility-scale solar power and outputting it directly into the electric utility grid at distribution voltage levels--eliminating the need for large transformers. Transformers "step up" the voltage of the power that is generated by a solar power system so it can be efficiently transported through transmission lines and eventually "stepped down" to usable voltages before it enters homes and businesses. Power companies step up the voltage because less electricity is lost along transmission lines when the voltage is high and current is low. Cree's new power conversion devices will eliminate these heavy transformers and connect a utility-scale solar power system directly to the grid. Cree's modular devices are designed to ensure reliability--if one device fails it can be bypassed and the system can continue to run.
Impact Summary: 
If successful, Cree would simplify the solar power conversion process and significantly reduce the cost of operating, installing, and siting a PV power system--helping to facilitate their widespread use.
Security: 
Lowering the cost of PV systems would help increase the use of solar energy, which in turn would decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and improve U.S. energy security.
Environment: 
This project could help position the U.S. as a leader in the power electronics industry.
Economy: 
Solar energy systems create zero harmful emissions while providing energy to homes and businesses, so their widespread use would significantly improve air quality.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Timothy Heidel
Project Contact: 
Dr. Jeffrey Casady
Partners
Advanced Energy
Vacon USA