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By  Shani Kaufmann 25 June 2024 3 min read

Key points

  • We have collaborated with Tapestry, a team at X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, to prototype a new “smart” inverter.
  • Early results suggest this new design is faster and could increase grid stability and efficiency.
  • In a global first, the teams demonstrated that their prototype can seamlessly transfer models and simulations to physical inverters.

Australia currently has more renewable energy available than it can use.  That is because the existing network was not designed for such a large share of power to be generated by customers. 

Dr Stephen Craig is our Smart Energy Mission Lead. 

“Australia’s currently sitting on a goldmine of renewable energy, yet much of it goes to waste due to our inability to harness it effectively,” Stephen explains.

In the future, we will need technology that can improve grid stability, enhance efficiency, integrate energy storage, and enable remote monitoring and control. 

Collaboration ignites progress

Under the Digital Future Initiative, our strategic partnership with Google Australia aims to solve big challenges and apply our unique capabilities to accelerate the impact of research. This has led to the smart inverter project with Tapestry, a part of Alphabet’s Google X’s innovation hub. 

Dr Dietmar Tourbier is our Energy Director.

"This work with Tapestry builds on CSIRO’s 20+ years of research on Australia’s energy system, emissions reductions and economic futures. The transitions required for Australia to meet its emissions commitments and remain globally competitive are complex, and solutions require collaboration across industry, government, finance, and the global energy sector,” Dietmar says.

The prototype smart inverter was designed by Dr Leo Casey, Tapestry’s Chief Scientist. It has a range of new sensors and software, including grid-forming software. These features mean the inverter can communicate with other devices on the grid like solar panels or batteries. And it can work with these devices to keep the grid stable. This capability is critical as more dynamic and unpredictable renewable resources like solar and wind come onto the grid.

We brought our expertise in advanced mathematical models to the collaboration. Over the past few months, the prototypes have been tested at our Newcastle Energy Centre and the early results are promising.

 “Joining forces with the CSIRO team and their expertise in controls is a very good fit. The future of this project looks promising, with the teams bringing complimentary skills to the table," Leo says.

Photo: L-R: Dr Leo Casey, Tapestry’s Chief Scientist; and our Drs Muslem Uddin and Julio Braslavsky at our Newcastle Energy Centre.

Meeting diverse power needs

In a global first, the teams demonstrated that their prototype can seamlessly transfer models and simulations to physical inverters. The ability to accurately model and simulate grid behaviour is an increasingly important element of the decarbonisation effort.

The advanced inverters can coordinate with devices across the grid to maintain stability. They could be 50 percent more cost-effective to produce and won’t compromise on conversion efficiency. 

The novel design of the new prototype features signal sensing and signal filtering hardware, as well as grid forming and microgrid software so that the device can not only more accurately detect voltages and currents, but also act on that information. 

A further significant aspect of the project in the development environment is that it is utilising back-to-back connections with the inverters. By linking inverters back-to-back, we unlock the door to higher voltage and power levels without the need for a single, oversized inverter. It's a flexible strategy that offers solutions tailored to diverse power needs.

The new prototype is incredibly compact: comparable to the average laptop, and they deliver an impressive 300kW output, sufficient energy to supply power to 20 households.

The increased capacity of the inverters has been made possible by replacing silicon with silicon carbide, a compound characterised by the combination of silicon and carbon.

Photos: Dr Julio Braslavsky, our lead scientist on the project, demonstrates the difference in size between conventional inverters (left) and the smart inverters (right).

Project Manager Himani Goyal is excited about future applications.

“Electricity distribution network operators and emerging third-party entities like virtual power plant operators are going to be most interested in the potential of this technology.”

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