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Amperesand: Revolutionizing The Power Grid with Solid State Transformer Technology

Image Credits: Amperesand
By: Headliners News / March 1, 2024

In the vast expanse of global electricity infrastructure, transformers play a pivotal role, seamlessly altering voltage as electricity traverses the grid — from power plants to the tiniest phone chargers. Remarkably, these transformers, developed in the late 1800s, have endured the test of time, reflecting the resilience of their original design and the sluggish evolution of the grid over the years.

However, the landscape of the global grid is undergoing a seismic shift with the advent of distributed renewables, batteries, and electric vehicles. Unlike the historical unidirectional flow of electricity from massive power plants to end users, the contemporary grid empowers each end user to potentially become a power provider. This paradigm shift poses a considerable challenge to the conventional transformer.

Moreover, the demand for transformers has surged, surpassing the available supply. This has impeded the progress of renewable power projects and led to escalating costs. Enter solid-state transformers, poised to be the transformative counterpart to the vacuum tube, much like the integrated circuit was.

While traditional transformers are passive devices merely adjusting voltage, solid-state transformers, particularly those based on silicon-carbide technology, promise to offer a plethora of functionalities beyond their conventional counterparts. Although solid-state transformers have historically been confined to research projects, Amperesand, an innovative power electronics startup is spearheading efforts to bring this technology to commercial fruition.

In a significant move, the power electronics startup has successfully raised $12.45 million in a seed round, with key participation from Xora Innovation, Temasek’s early-stage arm, and Material Impact, alongside TDK Ventures and Foothill Ventures.

The existing transformers, efficient and cost-effective as they may be, present limitations in terms of size, regulation of voltage, and frequency control. As the grid witnesses an influx of diverse elements, such as solar arrays, house batteries, and electric vehicle fast chargers, the potential for irregularities and disruptions amplifies. Amperesand’s silicon-carbide solid-state transformers, with their active front-end capabilities, aim to address these challenges.

While widespread adoption by risk-averse utilities may take several years, Amperesand plans to initially target electric vehicle charging companies for their transformative technology. Phil Inagaki, Managing Director at Xora and Amperesand’s interim CEO, identifies EV charging as an ideal use case, given the substantial market it presents for transformers.

The advantages of solid-state transformers extend beyond functionality. They are not only smaller but also boast lower cooling requirements, potentially reducing space requirements by up to 75%. This feature is particularly valuable for deploying fast-charging stations in urban areas where space is at a premium.

Amperesand’s approach is modular, allowing scalability to accommodate different power requirements in diverse locations. Unlike traditional transformers that are monolithic, the solid-state counterparts can be constructed using modules, simplifying customization and expansion.

Acknowledging the financial constraints of manufacturing grid-tied equipment, Amperesand’s strategy focuses on minimal infrastructure, relying on semiconductor manufacturers for silicon-carbide devices and a network of suppliers for printed circuit boards. The startup aims to deliver the first units to the U.S. and Singapore in 2025, with full commercialization slated for the subsequent year.

Inagaki emphasizes the scalability potential of Amperesand, envisioning a rapid revenue growth trajectory. He foresees the company reaching $100 million in revenue swiftly, with ample room to scale to a $1 billion revenue run rate. The intrinsic semiconductor nature of solid-state transformers equips them with sensors that provide granular data, empowering grid operators with deeper insights into grid performance.

Amperesand’s ambitious vision extends beyond immediate revenue milestones. If successful in penetrating the market, the startup could catalyze the realization of the “internet of power,” a concept long yearned for by industry experts. This envisioned grid would transcend reliance on basic signals, immersing itself in a data-rich environment capable of swift responses to demand spikes, accommodating power surges from solar-powered neighborhoods, and leveraging distributed batteries to stabilize the grid during unforeseen events.

While the arrival of the internet of power remains years away, solid-state transformers stand poised to emerge as a cornerstone of this transformative journey.

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