Storage has always been the problem of generating power from the sun. Harvesting light through the solar panels has improved significantly over the years, but to where the energy will be stored is another matter.
Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have developed a single-system solar technology which somehow solves this problem. It is said to cut clean energy costs into half.
Called the M4 Inverter, or the modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters, the technology is the brainchild of solar experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering. The idea is to produce electricity by integrating the entire solar power generation and storage into one single system, while converting direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current.
Currently, solar energy systems are composed of bulky and expensive storage batteries. This is eliminated in the new system, making the solar power generation cheaper and less spacious.
Photo by Power Costs, Inc
New silicon carbide power electronics switchers are used in the M4 inverter to achieve the level of efficiency required in the conversion of AC to DC. No transformers are also required for this new system.
More selling points of this system include its modular building block and its power backup. This allows the reduction of manufacturing costs and higher reliability during power cuts.
Lead principal investigator of his project Alex Huang, who is also an electrical and computer engineering professor and director of the Semiconductor Power Electronics Center in the Cockrell School, believes that the M4 inverter will create efficiencies in a variety of ways.
“Our solution to solar energy storage not only reduces capital costs, but it also reduces the operation cost through its multifunctional capabilities,” Huang said.
“These functionalities will ensure the power grids of tomorrow can host a higher percentage of solar energy. By greatly reducing the impact of the intermittence of solar energy on the grid and providing grid-governing support, the M4 Inverter provides the same resilience as any fossil-fuel-powered grid.”
The Department of Energy has awarded $3 million to the UT researchers to develop the system, only one of the nine projects who received from the total $20 million set by the government agency for early-stage solar power electronics technologies. This is part of its goal to cut in half the cost of electricity for a solar system by 2030.
Researchers at UT will partner with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Toshiba International, Wolfspeed and Opal-RT, as well as Argonne National Lab.