Clean-tech researchers, entrepreneurs and start-ups from around the world now have a chance to juice their breakthroughs thanks to a $200 million investment and award fund launched today by GE and four venture capital partners. Seeking the best ideas to transform the way we “create, connect and use power,” the “GE ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid” commitment was announced by GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in San Francisco as part of a GE clean technology showcase that also included two new smart grid product launches and a host of innovations that are either deployed or in the pipeline. To help accelerate the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles, GE WattStation made its debut. The electric vehicle (EV) charger not only significantly decreases the time needed for charging, but its smart grid technology lets utilities manage the impact on local and regional grids. And on the home front, GE unveiled Nucleus, a home energy command center that’s the size of a cell phone. It serves as the hub of conversations taking place between smart meters, smart appliances and your household computer or smart phone.
Renowned industrial designer Yves Behar explains how he fused functionality with a consumer friendly form on the charger in the video above.
The thinking behind the ecomagination Challenge is that business needs to ignite “a new American industrial revolution” — one that is fueled by the best technology. And just as collaboration is what will produce the winning technologies, it’s also the foundation of the Challenge itself as GE has partnered with well-known venture capital firms Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and RockPort Capital in the joint investment. The evaluation committee and judges will be looking for breakthrough ideas that can help create a smarter, cleaner, more efficient electric grid, and accelerate the adoption of smart grid technologies. Proposals are sought in three, broad categories: Renewables, Grid and Eco Homes/Eco Buildings.
|The race is on: The challenge is one of the largest ever and is open immediately at ecomagination.com/challenge. “The Smart Grid is a new platform and a new market that is just beginning to be explored,” said Wired magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson, who is serving as an advisor on the Challenge. “Great ideas on how to do this can come from anywhere, so this competition is designed to tap the widest possible range of innovators, from big companies to entrepreneurs to students.”|
While the investment fund will be used for some entrants, others in the challenge will have chances to benefit from GE’s global reach, marketing know-how, and its array of global labs via a range of commercial relationships. For example, GE’s technical and commercial teams may work with some entrants to evaluate their business strategies — or partnerships may be explored so that GE can help a business scale-up and expand globally. Development opportunities include tapping into GE‘s technical infrastructure and Global Research Centers to accelerate development while growth opportunities may involve using GE’s existing customer relationships to aid a business with its go-to-market strategy. Five entrants in the 10-week challenge have a chance to receive a $100,000 innovation challenge award for outstanding entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Innovation is the engine of the global effort to transform the way we create, connect and use power,” Jeff said. “At GE we have invested broadly and deeply in digital energy solutions and see this as a substantial market for us, but we can’t do it alone. We want to work with our partners to make sure we have a comprehensive digital energy offering. This challenge is about collaboration and we are inviting others to help accelerate progress in creating a cleaner, more efficient and economically viable grid. We want to jump-start new ideas and deploy them on a scale that will modernize the electrical grid around the world.”
|Digital revolution: As Jeff underscored in his presentation, GE currently has a strong Digital Energy offering with revenue in 2010 in this space alone estimated to be about $2 billion. GE’s portfolio covers the landscape from “turbine to toaster” via power generation, transmission and distribution, connecting into commercial and industrial markets, and connecting to consumers’ homes. But there is more work to do, Jeff said — which is a key driver of the new Challlenge. As the chart above shows, in 2009 the digital energy market was estimated to be about $18 billion. However, it’s expected to explode to about $110 billion in size by 2030. The growth in various Digital Energy sectors within the overall market is shown on the right.|
The ecomagination innovation challenge and new product launches follow GE’s commitment last month to double its own clean technology R&D investment to $10 billion over the next five years. “We took on a challenge when we launched ecomagination five years ago and we have learned about the power of partnerships to deliver clean energy solutions today,” said GE CMO Beth Comstock. “The challenge announced today is about collaboration and harnessing the promise of fledgling ideas and businesses to transform our energy future. We are confident in people’s willingness to change the way the world uses energy and in the ideas that will make this possible.”
|Center field: GE’s Nucleus delivers real-time energy usage consumption to PCs, and smart phone applications. The idea is that by educating consumers about energy use, it empowers them to make decisions about how and when they use energy. Nucleus will collect and store a consumer’s household electricity use and cost data for up to three years. Its the first product in GE’s Brillion suite of smart home energy management solutions that will include a programmable thermostat, in-home display, a smart phone application, and smart appliances for the entire home. Nucleus is expected to be available for consumer purchase in early 2011 at an estimated retail price of $149-$199. To view a video about GE’s Nucleus click here and to view the website visit www.GEBrillion.com.|
Members of the general public will also be able to review and comment on entries and show support for the idea that they believe will have the most impact on the smart grid of the future by visiting ecomagination.com/challenge.
|Fast and fashionable: On average, GE WattStation decreases electric vehicle charging time from 12-18 hours to as little as four to eight hours compared to standard charging “level 1”, assuming a full-cycle charge for a 24 kWh battery. It will be commercially available globally in 2011 and a specialized home version will be unveiled later this year. Steve Fludder, vice president of GE ecomagination, said, “Widespread electric vehicle adoption depends on having charging stations that integrate the need for quick charging with the personal need for easy functionality. GE WattStation will meet this challenge.”|
Watch a replay of today’s webcast.
* Watch CNBC’s interview with Jeff Immelt following the announcement
* Read the WattStation announcement
* Read the ecomagination Challenge announcement
* Read the Nucleus announcement
* Learn more about GE WattStation, including preorder details
* Visit the challenge website
* Visit ecomagination.com
* Read more ecomagination stories on GE Reports
* Read the just-released ecomagination Annual Report