Optical Switches for High-Power Systems

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OPEN 2012
Malvern, Pennsylvania
Project Term:
05/15/2013 - 08/10/2015

Technology Description:

Silicon Power is developing a semiconducting device that switches high-power and high-voltage electricity using optical signals as triggers for the switches, instead of conventional signals carried through wires. A switch helps control electricity, converting it from one voltage or current to another. High-power systems generally require multiple switches to convert energy into electricity that can be transmitted through the grid. These multi-level switch configurations use many switches which may be costly and inefficient. Additionally, most switching mechanisms use silicon, which cannot handle the high switching frequencies or voltages that high-power systems demand. Silicon Power is using light to trigger its switching mechanisms, which could greatly simplify the overall power conversion process. Additionally, Silicon Power’s switching device is made of silicon carbide instead of straight silicon, which is more efficient and allows it to handle higher frequencies and voltages.

Potential Impact:

If successful, Silicon Power’s new optical switches would help simplify and improve the overall efficiency of transmitting electricity from high-power, high-voltage systems—including renewable power sources—along the grid.


This project could contribute to a smarter, more reliable, more advanced, and secure electric grid.


More efficient power converters could help reduce U.S. electricity consumption, and in turn reduce the harmful emissions created by coal-fired power plants.


Efficient and affordable grid-scale power converters could help lower power bills for average consumers.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Timothy Heidel
Project Contact:
Mr. David Syracuse
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of Illinois, Chicago
Cree, Inc.

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