Princeton Power hopes its technology can help solve high solar costs

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    Darren Hammell, executive vice president of Princeton Power Systems, said his firm's solar inverter technology will help reduce hardware and wiring costs and open the door to widespread solar array installation.
    Darren Hammell, executive vice president of Princeton Power Systems, said his firm's solar inverter technology will help reduce hardware and wiring costs and open the door to widespread solar array installation.

    As the first New Jersey-based company to get accepted into the U.S. Department of Energy's national solar technology incubator, Princeton Power Systems is taking a year-long shot at developing a product that will achieve the department's goal of significantly reducing the installed cost of solar energy.

    Since the SunShot Initiative launched in 2007 as an effort to reduce the cost of installing solar arrays by 75 percent through technology innovation, 54 small businesses and entrepreneurs around the country have received a total of $92 million in government funding, which has leveraged more than $1.7 billion in venture capital and private equity investment. To shorten the length of time between the development and the full-scale manufacturing of its 2-megawatt solar inverter technology, Princeton Power has received a $1 million grant from the DOE and will invest $318,700 of its own funds in the project.

    According to company spokeswoman Amanda Scaccianoce, the inverter's design eliminates the need for large transformers that are used in typical solar installations to connect to the power grid while preventing electric shock — "normally a huge contributor to the system cost."

    "Typically, a system of this size would require several different parts, such as multiple inverters, separate transformers and disconnects," said Darren Hammell, Princeton Power executive vice president, in a statement. "What we have managed to develop is an inverter that incorporates energy storage capabilities with an integrated high-frequency transformer, merging the power and capability of six inverters into one enclosure."

    Scaccianoce said the product's small size — as well as its ability to generate greater efficiency from solar arrays by hosting six electric ports on one system — will lower the significant hardware and wiring costs that, according to the DOE, have stymied widespread photovoltaic system installation in the United States.

    While the research and development portion of the project will barely create a handful of jobs for engineers and technicians at its Lawrenceville facilities, Scaccianoce said "the real job creation comes when we commercialize the project at the end of the year-long program," as Princeton Power intends to make additional investments in manufacturing and hiring "to build and sell the product, which will continue to be manufactured in New Jersey."

    Aside from creating high-paid jobs, the commercialized inverter technology could take a significant step in reviving the state's solar manufacturing industry, which has shifted to China in recent years.

    But for now, Scaccianoce said the company is focused on perfecting the software behind the inverter, though it is already testing an early version of the hardware at low power levels and is on track to complete and publicly demonstrate two operating prototypes of the full system within a year.

    Princeton Power Systems is participating in the $18 million seventh round of the SunShot Incubator Program alongside nine startup energy engineering companies located in Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and California. Projects accepted into the DOE incubator range from solar energy storage to plug-and-play installation techniques in an effort to address the high costs throughout all sectors of the U.S. solar energy economy.

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