Back in January, we wrote about the opening of Phase II of GE’s Ecomagination Challenge — called “Powering Your Home” — and highlighted a few of the many inventive early submissions. Just last week, the competition closed, and now the judges begin the fun part: combing through the more than 800 ideas submitted by students, inventors and entrepreneurs from all over the world for new ways to capture, manage and use energy in the home.
GE and its venture capital partners, RockPort Capital, KPCB, Foundation Capital, Emerald Technology Ventures and Carbon Trust, have dedicated $200 million to all phases of the Ecomagination Challenge and will work with winners to fund, develop and grow their ideas into successful businesses. Below is a sampling, in no particular order, of some of the fascinating ideas submitted since our preview in January. Click here for the full list of entries.
- Biomass-Powered Houses: Eden Energy System wants to “supply all of a household’s heat, electricity, and cooling needs using renewable solid fuels such as wood, trash, yard debris or any other carbon-based material.” Their “carbon neutral system can be used alone or as part of a hybrid system to increase the dependability of wind and solar solutions,” and “can be scaled to benefit municipalities, businesses, and multi-family communities.” Think this idea should be tossed out with the trash? Think again. According to the Biomass Power Association, “biomass is an expanding $1 billion industry…that supplies over half of America’s renewable electricity.” Further, “because it is not affected by changes in weather or environmental conditions, biomass power is an extremely reliable renewable energy source” that “can produce a steady and dependable flow of electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Kudos to Eden Energy for breathing life into the old saw “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
- Innovative Home Energy Monitoring Systems: Many of the ideas propose interesting new ways to monitor home energy use. One fun, clever submission was for a welcome mat that updates you on energy consumption as you come and go — and even reminds you if you forgot your wallet. Another called for making the existing energy grid smarter, without waiting years for sophisticated sensors and other improvements, by connecting it to social networks. That way, the grid can “motivate users to save energy when the power supplier needs.” One of the more intriguing monitoring ideas we found was for a product called the Energy Wiz, a mobile and social energy monitor. The Energy Wiz “connects to your energy monitor or smart meter and delivers you real-time energy consumption information. Through comparison, it explains abstract units, such as kWh and CO2 and lets you compete against your neighbors and Facebook friends making energy saving social and fun!” As behavioral economist Dan Ariely noted in a previous post on GE’s own home energy monitoring system, called Nucleus, incorporating elements of competition into energy monitoring could help motivate people to change their consumption patterns — a green version of “keeping up with the Joneses.”
- Solar-Powered Desalination: One thing we sometimes take for granted at home in the developed world is easy access to clean drinking water (see here for a recent post about cities and World Water Day). Several ideas involved solar-powered desalination: one was for an entire plant that could provide a new source of clean drinking water for areas near coastlines, freeing up fresh water to be used in regions further inland. Another was for a solar-powered desalination system to be used in remote areas. It would require “low maintenance” and could “produce…up to 100,000” liters of safe drinking water per day. These contestants are thinking like researchers at MIT who have been looking recently at crisis response applications of this technology.
Thanks to all of the contestants and check here for updates and winner announcements.