The tech behind Ideal Power’s Multi-Port Conversion System

Ideal-Power---Grid-Resilient-30kW-PCS-(hi-res-300dpi)-Larger Solar and storage will be the peanut butter and jelly of the next few decades. And if this is true (and I just said it was), then power conversion solutions that tie the two together in a seamless unison will, obviously, be the bread.
Ideal Power has one such solution with its lineup of Grid Resilient Multi-Port Power Conversion Systems.

Baked into these solutions is Ideal’s Power Packet Switching Architecture (PPSA), a new, patented current modulation technology that marries high-performance semiconductor power switches with advanced software controls. The result is a power converter that doesn’t need the isolation transformer that’s normally required for voltage-source power conversion.

How?

Transformerless inverters are not that new on the PV side of the system, with several popular inverters today operating at a floating voltage with no ground reference. But this isn’t the case with batteries, which need to be grounded or completely isolated from the grid, and yet, Ideal Power’s multi-port power converters can handle both strategies at once.

“We eliminate the direct connection between the grid and the DC source, whether PV or battery, but we do it in a different way,” says Ryan O’Keefe, SVP of business development at Ideal Power. “We have this high frequency switching system that puts power from one port to another through our energy storage device we call AC Link.”
With this architecture, AC and DC are constantly switching into storage inside the AC Link (about 14,000 times a second). This is how the system provides isolation without the need for a transformer.

“We’re really an energy storage computer,” O’Keefe says. “We store little bits of energy that transfer really quickly from one port to another.”

Think of it like a router that transfers little bits of data among all of its ports to provide an Internet connection. This is the same principle, but with power instead of data.

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Why?

For all that the Multi-Port products accomplish, they are super lightweight. A typical 30-kW unit for a battery system could be 600 or 700 lbs, where Ideal’s is 125 lbs. A big part of that is the absence of a transformer, but other passive components have also been removed — less copper, less iron, fewer magnetics — because there are fewer stages of conversion. Fewer conversion stages also mean higher efficiency.

So, in today’s typical commercial solar+storage installation, the PV system connects to a series of inverters and the battery system connects to one of the aforementioned 600-lb converters. An installer using a Multi-Port converter will just need the one unit, which saves money, install time and space. It also builds in flexibility for the investors/owners looking for some.

“We’re seeing solar installers today say my customers don’t know if they are ready for storage right now, but they know it’s coming,” O’Keefe says. “We can build a solar system with a three-port inverter today and give them the option to add batteries later that are plug and play.”

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Where?

In addition to selling its regular lineup of products, Ideal has partnered with sonnen, a leading energy storage provider, on an integration with its commercial storage solution. The first product from sonnenbatterie for the North American commercial market is based on a 30-kW and 24-kWh building block creating energy storage systems from 24 to 240 kWh, which will be used for demand charge reduction for commercial and industrial customers.

In addition, Ideal Power also partnered with KACO, another inverter manufacturer. KACO will be incorporating the PPSA into upcoming products of its own. O’Keefe couldn’t comment on any other potential partnerships, but Ideal Power is definitely interested in licensing its PPSA technology to other inverter manufacturers in the industry.

“We’re really focused on tech inside the box,” he says. “The grid is going to go through a massive transformation over the next decade or two. So, being a grid edge device that combines generation capability with storage is a promising place to position ourselves for the future.”

Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder.

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