CSIRO and Tapestry develop new “smart” inverter protype to help accelerate the transition to renewables

June 25th, 2024

Inverters are power electronic devices, commonly used to convert the direct current (DC) electricity from solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity that is used for household and business appliances. Smart inverters could help us to better harness the power of renewable energy.

Key Points:

  • We have collaborated with Tapestry, a team at X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, to prototype a new “smart” inverter to accelerate the transition to renewable energy
  • Early results suggest this new design is faster and could increase grid stability and efficiency.
  • In a global first, the teams demonstrated that their prototype can seamlessly transfer models and simulations to physical inverters.

Australia currently has more renewable energy available than it can use.  That is because the existing network was not designed for such a large share of power to be generated by customers.

Dr Stephen Craig is our Smart Energy Mission Lead.

“Australia’s currently sitting on a goldmine of renewable energy, yet much of it goes to waste due to our inability to harness it effectively,” Stephen explains.

In the future, we will need technology that can improve grid stability, enhance efficiency, integrate energy storage, and enable remote monitoring and control.

Collaboration ignites progress

Under the Digital Future Initiative, our strategic partnership with Google Australia aims to solve big challenges and apply our unique capabilities to accelerate the impact of research. This has led to the smart inverter project with Tapestry, a part of Alphabet’s Google X’s innovation hub.

Dr Dietmar Tourbier  is our Energy Director.

“This work with Tapestry builds on CSIRO’s 20+ years of research on Australia’s energy system, emissions reductions and economic futures. The transitions required for Australia to meet its emissions commitments and remain globally competitive are complex, and solutions require collaboration across industry, government, finance, and the global energy sector,” says Dietmar.

Designed by Dr Leo Casey, Tapestry’s Chief Scientist, the prototype smart inverter has a range of new sensors and software, including grid-forming software. These features mean the inverter can communicate with other devices on the grid—like solar panels or batteries—and work with these devices to keep the grid stable. This capability is critical as more dynamic and unpredictable renewable resources like solar and wind come onto the grid.

We brought our expertise in advanced mathematical models to the collaboration. Over the past few months, the prototypes have been tested at our Newcastle Energy Centre and the early results are promising.


Photo: L-R: Dr Leo Casey, Tapestry’s Chief Scientist; and our Drs Muslem Uddin and Julio Braslavsky at CSIRO’s Newcastle Energy Centre.








The results

In a global first, the teams demonstrated that their prototype can seamlessly transfer models and simulations to physical inverters. The ability to accurately model and simulate grid behaviour is an increasingly important element of the decarbonisation effort.

The advanced inverters can coordinate with devices across the grid to maintain stability, could be 50 percent more cost-effective to produce, and won’t compromise on conversion efficiency.

The novel design of the new prototype features signal sensing and signal filtering hardware, as well as grid forming and microgrid software so that the device can not only more accurately detect voltages and currents, but also act on that information.

A further significant aspect of the project in the development environment is that it is utilising back-to-back connections with the inverters. By linking inverters back-to-back, we unlock the door to higher voltage and power levels without the need for a single, oversized inverter. It’s a flexible strategy that offers solutions tailored to diverse power needs.


Photos: Dr Julio Braslavsky, our lead scientist on the project, demonstrates the difference in size between conventional inverters (top) and the smart inverters (bottom).









The new prototype is incredibly compact: comparable to the average laptop, and they deliver an impressive 300kMW output. This translates to the capacity of 164 inverters currently available in the market, or sufficient energy to supply power to 20 households. The increased capacity of the inverters has been made possible by replacing silicon with silicon carbide, a compound characterised by the combination of silicon and carbon.

Who are the potential customers for this prototype if it is commercialised?

Project Manager Himani Goyal is excited about future applications, “Electricity distribution network operators and emerging third-party entities like virtual power plant operators are going to be most interested in the potential of this technology.”