Q&A with Ideal Power: Partnering to better solar + storage systems

In light of Ideal Power’s recent partnerships and new solar+storage solutions, Solar Power World reached out to John Merritt, the company’s Director of Applications Engineering, to provide more insight into the company’s technology and business model.

Solar Power World: Can you provide a little background on what your company offers for solar?

John Merritt, Ideal Power's Director of Applications Engineering

John Merritt, Ideal Power’s Director of Applications Engineering

Merritt: Ideal Power’s power conversion systems excel at solar + storage for peak demand management, demand shifting and microgrid applications. Our systems make this possible using a single multiport converter, whereas conventional technology requires an inverter for the PV array and a separate battery converter for storage.

Integrating solar with battery storage also requires bi-directional capabilities to direct energy flow from the energy source input (solar array or grid) to the battery and from the battery back to the grid. Our technology is designed to be inherently bi-directional. As a result, our power conversion systems have much lower conversion losses than conventional power conversion systems.

SPW: Can you explain more about how Ideal Power’s Power Packet Switching Architecture (PPSA) works?

Merritt: Our technology goes far beyond the capabilities of a single-purpose inverter (DC to AC), with the additional capability of acting as a battery converter (AC to DC). The comparison is probably better drawn to conventional power conversion systems.

Our Power Packet Switching Architecture (PPSA) eliminates the need for many of the bulky and inefficient components that have been standard hardware for power conversion systems for decades. By eliminating transformers, electrolytic capacitors, large line reactors and filter circuits, we’ve been able to increase efficiency and reliability while significantly decreasing the size and weight of power conversion systems by an average of 75%. In addition, our technology produces far less heat than conventional technology so we’ve also eliminated liquid cooling systems, which are commonly prone to failure.

PPSA functions using a magnetic component that we call an “AC Link” which provides electrical isolation without a transformer. The AC Link charges, the voltage is rotated within the link and then discharged in a process that takes place about 14,000 times per second.

When integrating renewable sources, such as solar, with energy storage, traditional power converters use multi-step/multi-trip power conversion that further compromises system efficiency and power throughput. Multi-port PPSA technology replaces this process and eliminates the isolation transformer losses, improving the PV-to-storage-to-grid conversion efficiencies by 5% or more.

Ideal Power - Grid-Resilient 30kW PCS (hi res 300dpi)SPW: How and why are you working with KACO new energy?

Merritt: As part of Ideal Power’s capital-efficient business model, we have contracted our manufacturing to an outside partner to keep our costs low.

Our systems are being manufactured and white labeled for KACO new energy to sell under its own brand. Our agreement with KACO also allows the company to use our PPSA technology to develop its own differentiated products and integrated energy storage systems.

This is another part of our capital-efficient business model. It will allow us to add an additional revenue stream without the costs associated with materials, manufacturing and shipping.

SPW: I see you’ve also partnered with other storage companies such as Sharp, Green Charge Networks, Sonnenbatterie and Aquion Energy. What’s your strategy for working with these businesses?

Merritt: First and foremost, Ideal Power is a technology company. Our focus is to deliver efficient, flexible and cost-effective power converter solutions (whether Ideal branded, white labeled, and/or converter IP) to our integration partners, who then bundle our technology with batteries, controls and BoS components. These partners provide additional value-add, such as analytics and reporting, installation services and project financing. Entering the integration business is not part of our competency or business strategy, and would create competitive friction with our end customers. We do, however, provide technical support and training for our integration partners. For instance, we test with our battery manufacturer  partners to ensure compatibly with our technology. This support work benefits all parties in the energy-storage supply chain.