Bringing the GaN enabled PV inverter to life


As System Innovator, Neways is working on different innovation projects. One of these projects is the European GaNext project where we are building an Intelligent Power Module (IPM) together with our international partners to remove existing barriers for adopting the Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology for practical solutions. Our share is to build an extremely compact solar inverter (PV inverter) that incorporates both the GaN technology and the IPM to contribute to the miniaturization of power applications.

Therefore, we are using a two stage approach. At first we are building a PV inverter using GaN devices and second we will build a PV inverter using the Intelligent Power Module.

In Q1 we have shared the first part of the GaN story in which we explained some of the fundamental choices with respect to the switching frequencies. Since then, a lot has happened. We created our first prototypes and started the testing activities.

The used 650V GaN components from consortium partner Cambridge GaN Devices Ltd. (CGD) are state of the art and not yet commercially available. Therefore, we had to find a solution to test and integrate the various parts, ensuring a smooth execution of the tests without destroying these precious components. Due to the so-called ‘unsafe’ (hazardous) voltages involved, we furthermore and foremost must prevent any injury occurring to the team members working on the device under test.

We took full advantage of our systems engineering based design methodology by applying the structured and phased development approach to the GaNext inverter.

After the prototype PCBA was built we initiated the various verification phases, starting with the unit verification test of the single building blocks as used in the GaNext PV inverter. Independent of any other part of the GaNext PV inverter prototype or any high voltage supply, these building blocks were brought to life – step by step and function by function.

The Inverter output stage ready for unit verification testing

During this first unit verification testing phase, a separate team created a safe working environment for the inevitable situation where we would need to feed the inverter with the unsafe voltages.

Next step was the integration of the various building blocks and initiating the integration tests at low voltages. It was a huge thrill to see the PV inverter come to life and generating the first sinewave!

In a follow-up test round, the integration tests inside this safe working environment were executed at higher voltages, and the step-by-step approach payed off, resulting in a successful integration without major setbacks.

Because of the step-by-step approach, we were already able to achieve a power conversion of 1KW within a short timeline, without any unsafe situations occurring and without any broken GaN device!

Of course we are not done yet. For this prototype, the transferred power has to be raised to 3KW and lots of tests and optimizations have to be performed to take full advantage of the GaN technology. Next steps will be determining the efficiency of the system. And – watch out for the spoiler – the first results look really promising. To be continued in our next quarterly follow-up.

First sinewave shown during initial integration using low in- and output voltages

Information GaNext project:

Gallium Nitride ”GaN” is a promising material to replace silicon in power electronics application in the 650 V market sector. Power systems based on GaN can be lighter, more compact, significantly more efficient and potentially cheaper than those based on Silicon. Within the GaNext project we aim to remove barriers for GaN adoption and demonstrate the higher efficiency and power density of GaN-based system in a range of applications. The heart of the project is the development of an intelligent GaN power module where the controller, drivers and protection circuits are co-packaged with the power devices.

GaNext Consortium Partners:

United Kingdom
Cambridge GaN Devices Ltd., CSA Catapult, Lyra Electronics Ltd.

Besi Netherlands BV, Eindhoven University of Technology, Neways Technologies BV, Signify

advICo microelectronics GmbH, Maccon Elektroniksysteme GmbH, Infineon Technologies AG, SUMIDA Components & Modules GmbH, Technische Universität Dortmund, Fraunhofer IMS

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