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Google announces $1m prize for a smaller inverter

12 May, 2014

Google is offering a $1m prize to encourage the development of smaller, more efficient inverters, principally for solar power applications.

The company has launched a Web site for the “Little Box Challenge” but, so far, there are few details about the prize. Google has said it will release more information “in the coming months”.

While the costs of solar photovoltaic modules have come down in recent years and their efficiencies have improved, Google feels that this has not been matched by similar progress in inverter technologies. It hopes that the $1m prize will encourage developers to come up with designs for a new generation of smaller, lighter and more efficient inverters.

Google believes that this could have spinoff benefits for other applications. Arun Majumdar, the company’s vice president of energy, says that “the innovations inspired by this prize will help make renewable energy more affordable, electric vehicles lighter, and electric motors significantly more efficient”.

Google has set up a Web site for the Little Box prize, but there are no details yet

One possible application for lighter inverters would be on board the pilotless solar-powered planes built by Titan Aerospace, which Google acquired recently. The planes, which are designed to stay aloft for years at a time, can beam radio signals to the ground and Google could use them to bring the Internet to remote areas, especially in developing countries.

Google says that the Little Box Challenge is one of its “many efforts to advance a clean energy future”. It has already committed more than $1bn to 16 renewable energy projects around the world and has set itself the goal of powering all of its own operations from renewable sources. It has contracted more than 1GW of wind energy to power its data centres.

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