IPC awarded USD$2.5 million for solar inverter development


IPC, a team with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Virginia Tech, currently develops solar inverters for the U.S. commercial photovoltaic market. Its focus is on decreasing the weight of the inverter, thus helping to reduce costs.

Using the funds awarded by DOE, a spokesperson told pv magazine that the ARPA-E project will create a bidirectional silicon IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistor), which will be optimized for IPC’s product requirements.

"Uni-directional (non-bidirectional) silicon IGBTs are the mainstream power electronic switches used in solar inverters and other high power electronic converter applications. IPC patented current-modulation topology requires bidirectional switches, which are not needed in existing products," explained the spokesperson.

They said research will begin when the contract with DOE has been signed. "It will take several years to develop and commercialize the new IGBTs," they continued, adding that "IPC plans to use the new bidirectional silicon IGBTs in a next generation power converter for solar inverters and other applications."

Although new manufacturing facilities are expected to be established in the future, no concrete plans have been laid out thus far.

IPC’s overall goal is to reduce the weight of its inverters by 98 percent, which will then help to lower the cost of materials, manufacturing, shipping and installation. "Due to the rapid decline in PV modules, the inverter and installation costs are becoming the bottleneck to further PV system cost reductions," said IPC in a separate statement released.

IPC said its first 30 kilowatt photovoltaic inverter weighed just 94 pounds. This reduction in weight from conventional inverters, which weigh 1,200 pounds, explained the statement, allows for simple shipment and wall mount savings of around 90 percent.

"The IPC inverter is also more efficient at 97 percent CEC-weighted efficiency and is more reliable due to eliminating all electrolytic capacitors and other design improvements," it continued.

The 30 kilowatt inverters are said to be near to commercial availability now.