For every garage entrepreneur, university research lab and startup that thinks it has the solution to move the world closer to energy efficiency, General Electric has some money that it's looking to unload.
GE just announced the $200 million GE Ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid, which is an open call for ideas to update the electrical grid. The Challenge, launched in collaboration with venture capital firms Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer, and RockPort Capital, as well as Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired, will allow anyone to submit an idea on the website over the next 10 weeks or to vote for ideas that seem the most promising.
"[The grid] is a slow fat rabbit. You could apply elementary technology and reap benefits. It's a one-way dumb system," said Ray Lane, Managing Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "We put energy out there to reach peak demand and everything else is wasted."
Submissions can go into one of three categories: renewable energy, grid efficiency and ecohomes/eco buildings.
In case a $200 million challenge fund isn't enough, GE also announced its smart charger, WattStation, which can charge a 24-volt battery in four to eight hours, and the GE Nucleus home energy monitor that connects smart plugs to smart meters to help consumers manage their home energy use.
As part of the second phase of the ecomagination initiative, Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of GE, also announced that the company will be doubling its R&D investment in clean energy technologies over the next 5 years, to $10 billion between 2010 and 2015.
"Conservation is absolutely key," said Immelt. "The whole movement around clean energy did itself a disservice by making it seem fancy. As I look at the future, one of the things I see is to do simple things simply and get down the learning curve fast."
Eventually, Immelt sees a future where compensation for utilities will have to be changed from the current model, where selling more kilowatts equals more profit. For any company, including GE, that wants to stay ahead of the curve, now is the time to invest, because "it's going to change in like, 15 minutes one day," he said. "I guarantee that's going to happen."