Google Startup ‘Transphorms’ Solar Efficiency
The name of the company is Transphorm, and since its inception in 2007 it has been busy transforming the very nature of energy.
No bumps on solar cells, no cars that run on jellied jellyfish. Transphorm, emerging at the head of the class after three years of sitting in the back row, has discovered a technology that could ultimately capture some of the power lost in converting from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC).
This is done by your regional electric utility, which transmits electricity in DC and delivers power to the plug-ins in your home as AC. Why? It’s cheaper, for one thing. It’s also safer, and the amount of power lost to heat during transmission is minimal.
Even so, there is always some loss, and this is the problem Transphorm aims to solve. Because, if it could, it would salvage one-tenth of the power the entire world uses (which is, not coincidentally, almost the same amount as is lost in the conversion process by inefficient transformers, rectifiers, voltage regulators, etc.).
According to the Energy Information Agency, or EIA, the world used 495 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2007. Accounting for inflation of about 7 percent per year, that means that, in 2011, our Pale Blue Dot (thanks, Carl Sagan) is on schedule to use 523 quadrillion Btus. Ten percent of that is 52 Btus, or as much coal as all of China, India, Indonesia and other non-OECD Asian countries used in 2003.
Debuting Feb. 23 at a media event at Google’s Mountain View HQ, the Goleta, California-based power conversion wizard has raised $38 million in venture capital, $20 million from Google’s VC arm alone.
The funding will allow it to improve and market highly efficient power conversion devices (starting with an energy symposium in Texas in March). The plan is to tackle data centers and the EV and hybrid vehicle market first, then expand to the electric utility, solar panel, and other relevant venues later.
Increasing energy efficiency is one of the best ways of achieving that “green energy” economy we all want and need. Waste not, want not, as my mother used to say, and this particular waste-not strategy benefits not only large power users (factories and control centers, for example) but also the smallest user, which means you and I. This is because the cost of lost power is built into the cost per kilowatt-hour charged by the utility.
Transphorm’s secret weapon? Gallium nitride, a material that has to be fabricated, making it initially more expensive but consistently more efficient than silicon. It is, according to CEO Umesh Mishra, “a miracle material.”
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