How can we connect knowledge built in academia to people that need knowledge-based solutions for real-world challenges? In a word: innovation. But the journey from a research lab to hitting a consumer’s radar is not obvious, fast, or straightforward. Transforming research discovery into new products and processes available at market usually requires investment, connections, and patience.

Praveen Jain, professor of electrical engineering and Canada Research Chair in Power Electronics, has navigated both worlds for a long time. Working at the frontiers of academia and industry, the internationally recognized researcher has built the theory and practice of the field of power electronics and holds over 100 patents. In January, Dr. Jain reached a new milestone when his start-up company SPARQ Corp. went public through a listing on the TSX Venture Exchange (TSXV:SPRQ), after receiving $10 million financing through brokered private placement.

SPARQ’s main product, the Quad, is a compact microinverter created to improve residential solar energy technology – a solution in tune with the broader goal of a low-carbon future. For the consumer, the new system means increasing energy production while simplifying design and installation. In other words, it means acquiring a cost-effective, reliable solar energy system.

“Compared to installations that use traditional string inverters, the Quad delivers five to 20 per cent greater energy harvest over the system's lifetime,” explains Dr. Jain. “The Quad is a unique product in the market that can be used in any power grid, conventional or smart, independent of jurisdiction, around the globe.”

SPARQ is an outcome of years of research conducted by Jain and his team at the Queen’s Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePOWER). With the aim of increasing the availability and accessibility of solar power, they started from the basics: the development of mathematical algorithms to reduce the hardware complexity of the existing option. This research resulted in a lightweight, compact, cost-effective, and reliable microinverter design.




The work at ePOWER was made possible with support from Canada’s and Ontario’s research funding bodies, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Ontario Research Fund. “I was also fortunate enough to acquire funding for ePOWER from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and had unparalleled support of the university, particularly Queen’s Engineering,” says Dr. Jain.

Once the team developed the initial concept of Quad, PARTEQ Innovations (now Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation) – a not-for-profit unit created to support Queen's researchers in their commercialization endeavours – was a key partner in shaping SPARQ as a spin-off, playing a key role in start-up funding, intellectual property protection, and commercialization.

Dr. Jain, who started his career in the telecom and aerospace industry, returned to the market as a founder and CEO of SPARQ.

While academia is, in Dr. Jain’s perspective, the place to creatively explore his ideas, his previous experience in industry helped him understand the process of commercialization.

“Industry has taught me how to apply innovation in practical and real-life applications,” he says.

Now that they have addressed residential solar energy, SPARQ is in the process of developing a multi-purpose microinverter for farms.

“Currently, in agriculture photovoltaic applications, two distinct inverters are employed: one to feed solar power to the grid, and another to run water pumps for irrigation. The new Quad microinverter will perform the functions of both inverters in one,” explains Dr. Jain. “The multipurpose Quad microinverter will not only help farmers to run water pumps and irrigate their farms, but also to earn extra revenue by selling electricity to the grid when their pumps are not in use.”

For more information on Dr. Jain and SPARQ, visit the website.


This article first appeared in the Queen’s Gazette.