Tomorrow, the two-day Networked Grid Conference sponsored by Greentech Media kicks off in San Francisco and one of the buzzwords that should come out of it is solid state transformers.
A small but growing number of companies are working on technologies that could replace traditional transformers -- large pieces of industrial equipment fashioned from groups of components for raising or lowering electrical voltage -- with transformers that largely consist of semiconductors on circuit boards. This process could begin to pave the way for a number of improvements in the way that power gets delivered. Integrating and managing renewable power and electrical storage could become easier. Microgrids could be deployed much more rapidly.
Grid efficiency could conceivably be increased by up to 8 percent to 10 percent because of lower conversion and transmission losses.
Cree is an early leader in this space, and David Grider, the program manager for the silicon carbide group at the company, will be on hand to discuss the projects it has underway with DARPA and ARPA-E. But you will also hear from Namish Patel, CEO of emerging-from-stealth startup Gridco, as well as Gary Rackliffe of ABB. Power electronics, not the most glamorous field a few years ago, has emerged as the likely vehicle for delivering the magic of Moore's Law to grid operators and companies specializing in device and building efficiency. Hope to see you at the conference.
--Trilliant, which produces networking equipment and software for the grid, announced that Salim Khan, formerly the general manager of ABB's North American network management business, has joined as COO. Interestingly, Khan also oversaw ABB's investments in smart grid companies, including ABB's investment in Trilliant. Like Schneider Electric, ABB has been snapping up both established companies and startups at a furious pace. Naturally, high-placed execs are migrating from the mother ship to emerging companies. (Plug number two: Both Trilliant and ABB will speak at the conference as well.)
--Fallbrook Technologies, which makes a wacky-looking variable transmission for bikes and machinery that cuts down power consumption, has pulled its IPO. It filed papers a little over a year ago for a $50 million IPO and has since then signed up development agreements with several companies.
It's not a good sign, but it's certainly not a fatal one, for one of the emerging trends in green: automotive components and licensing. Achates Power, EcoMotors, Fallbrook, Transonic Combustion, Nanostellar and others are all trying to license technology (or license technology and provide components via the Innovalight model) to car makers. Car makers notoriously don't take kindly to outside technology. The advent of electric cars and increased CAFE standards, however, are forcing them -- startups hope -- to turn over a new leaf. LG Chem and General Motors have licensed battery technology from Argonne National Labs, while Mission Motors has signed MOUs with Chinese manufacturers. We've got more on this topic coming up.
--Ron Kenedi, longtime solar veteran and noted modern artist (I kid you not) has become president of JinkoSolar U.S. Ron for years served as the human face of Sharp Solar. Then, in 2010, he was suddenly replaced by Eric Hafner. Kenedi also serves on the board of Westinghouse Solar and he's a living testament to the endurance of solar.
--Speaking of solar, Trina Solar signed a three-year R&D agreement with Australia National University that in part will focus on monocrystalline cells. Suntech founder Dr. Zhengrong Shi served as a professor there.
--The EPA kicked off its Battle of the Buildings today. Teams from 245 buildings will compete head-to-head to see who can save the most energy.