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High-Power Transistor Switch

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
High-Voltage, Bi-Directional MOS-Gated SiC Power Switches for Smart Grid Utility Applications
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$803,907
Location: 
Troy, NY
Project Term: 
03/07/2013 to 03/06/2016
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
All electric devices are built to operate with a certain type and amount of electrical energy, but this is often not the same type or amount of electrical energy that comes out of the outlet in your wall. Power converters modify electrical energy from the outlet to a usable current, voltage, and frequency for an electronic device. Power stations also use power converters on a larger scale to modify electrical energy so it can be transmitted efficiently. Today's power converters are inefficient because they are based on decades-old technologies and rely on expensive, bulky, and failure-prone components. Within the next 20 years, 80% of the electricity used in the U.S. will flow through these devices, so there is a critical need to improve their efficiency.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is working to develop and demonstrate a new bi-directional transistor switch that would significantly simplify the power conversion process for high-voltage, high-power electronics systems. A transistor switch helps control electricity, converting it from one voltage to another or from an Alternating Current (A/C) to a Direct Current (D/C). High-power systems, including solar and wind plants, usually require multiple switches to convert energy into electricity that can be transmitted through the grid. These multi-level switch configurations are costly and complex, which drives down their overall efficiency and reliability. RPI's new switch would require fewer components than conventional high-power switches. This simple design would in turn simplify the overall power conversion process and enable renewable energy sources to more easily connect to the grid.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, RPI's new transistor switch could accelerate the development and deployment of modern and advanced grid infrastructures, resulting in increased use of renewable energy sources.
Security: 
A more efficient, reliable grid would be more resilient to potential disruptions from failure, natural disasters, or attack.
Environment: 
Enabling increased use of renewable energy sources would result in a substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.--40% of which are produced by electricity generation.
Economy: 
A more efficient grid could help protect U.S. businesses from costly power outages and brownouts that stop automated equipment, bring down factories, and crash computers.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Timothy Heidel
Project Contact: 
Dr. Tat-Sing Chow
Partners
General Electric
Release Date: 
11/28/2012