Shenoy looks to change solar power technology

ECE News

Heather Punke, ECE ILLINOIS
5/15/2012

Story Highlights

  • ECE graduate student Pradeep Shenoy has been working on ways to increase power from photovoltaic panel through differential power processing.
  • His technology has been licensed by SolarBridge Technologies.
  • He was also a finalist for the 2012 Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

Pradeep Samuel Shenoy
Pradeep Samuel Shenoy

ECE graduate student Pradeep Shenoy has an idea that could completely change how energy is converted from solar panels. Shenoy is focusing his efforts on solar energy. Photovoltaic panels need energy converters to connect the panel to the grid or load. These electronics attempt to maximize the power coming out of the panel. “Usually the power electronics process all the energy generated by the photovoltaic (PV) panel and lose energy in the process,” Shenoy explained.

“We’re able to get the maximum power out of each solar panel without having a cascaded energy conversion stage,” Shenoy explained of his idea. “We’re avoiding energy conversion for the most part and maximizing energy production through a technique called differential power processing.”

This is a huge change in energy conversion because it was not aimed at attempting to improve converter efficiency. “We’re taking a system level perspective. How can we, from a system level, make improvements,” he said.

Making these system-level adjustments can have a major impact on the future of solar energy. “What this helps is to increase the overall life of the PV system, make it a lot cheaper, and also get the benefit of maximizing power production without having this energy conversion overhead,” Shenoy explained.

Differential power converters enable each solar photovoltaic (PV) element to maximize power production, significantly reduce energy conversion losses and cost, and increase overall system reliability. Photo courtesy of Pradeep Shenoy.
Differential power converters enable each solar photovoltaic (PV) element to maximize power production, significantly reduce energy conversion losses and cost, and increase overall system reliability. Photo courtesy of Pradeep Shenoy.

The technology is licensed to SolarBridge Technologies, a University startup that makes solar power converters. Shenoy’s adviser, Professor Philip Krien, is one of the founders of SolarBridge Technologies.

For his ingenuity, Shenoy was one of five finalists for the 2012 Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize. The prize is awarded annually to a senior or graduate student “who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, redesigned a system, or demonstrated remarkable inventiveness in other ways,” according to the Technology Entrepreneurial Center (TEC) website.

Shenoy said it was an honor to be considered for the award. “It’s a pretty prestigious award and it’s great to be a finalist and for the work that I’ve done to be considered interesting enough to be worthy of a prize like that,” he said.

Shenoy was not the overall winner of the Lemelson-MIT prize; that honor went to Kevin Karsch, a doctoral student in Computer Science who. developed a technique for inserting objects and special effects into photos and videos without taking physical measurements of the scene.

Not only did this idea earn Shenoy a finalist position for the student prize, but SolarBridge Technologies was awarded a $1.75 million ARPA-E grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative in order to commercialize the technology.

Shenoy said Professor Krien was a “fantastic” adviser. “He encouraged me in this idea,” he said. “He knows not only the details of the project but also how it fits in the bigger picture.”

Along with Krien, Shenoy said some ECE graduate students have helped him along with his idea. Brian Johnson and Katherine Kim have been Shenoy’s main two supporters. “We have a good team,” Shenoy said.

After graduation, Shenoy will work at Texas Instrument’s Kilby Lab, their advanced research and development lab. “I really enjoy hands on engineering,” he said, but might consider becoming a professor further down the line.

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