After three months, more than 3,500 submissions and $200 million on the line, General Electric announced the first winners of its GE ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid.
The 12 winners for investment will see approximately $55 million and support from GE’s teams. But the benefit will extend far beyond the dozen winners. “We want to make sure [applicants] have someone to plug into,” said Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE. Although the plans are unclear, there may be an opportunity for angel investors and venture capitalists to coordinate with GE to fund or advise some of the other ideas, according to Mark Little, Senior Vice President and Director for GE Global Research. Many of the winners on Tuesday were in the software realm, because those projects have a lower capital cost to bring to market, although Immelt and others called for the need for innovation in power electronics to come from here in the U.S.
There were also advantages for the global giant. Sifting through so many applications (more than they expected, according to one GE executive) and assessing how GE could help these technologies connected departments that do not always work together. Immelt spoke about the fact that bringing solutions to make digital power (a phrase I like far better than 'smart grid') a reality requires “systems thinking.”
Here are GE’s corporate synopses of the 12 winners that will get to take advantage of, and complement, GE’s systems thinking and access to capital:
- ClimateWell, Stockholm, Sweden (Efficient Appliances). ClimateWell’s energy-efficient cooling and heating systems run on solar-powered hot water rather than electricity, maximizing energy efficiency. This technology translates into a significant reduction of power consumption and carbon emissions. While initially targeting operations like hospitals or commercial buildings, GE is working with ClimateWell on deploying this technology in additional markets already served through GE’s appliances business.
- Consert, Raleigh, NC (Energy Management Systems and Software). Consert’s demand-side energy management solution empowers utilities, municipalities and co-ops to manage load curtailment, increase operations efficiency and act as a virtual power plant. Consert’s technology complements GE Digital Energy’s existing solutions to meet the unique needs of these market segments.
- FMC-Tech, Ltd., Shannon, Ireland (Intelligent Sensor Technologies). The power line monitoring system for medium voltage networks serves as a nervous system for the smart grid and has applications for GE’s Smart Grid Delivery Optimization. It integrates overhead line sensing, data storage, and wireless communication to a local controller to detect and locate faults in the smart grid and manage distribution communications, providing a platform for the present and future needs of the network.
- The Fu Foundation School for Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University, New York, NY (EV Charging Stations). A new collaboration with GE, Columbia Engineering, FedEx Express, and Con Edison to enable the conversion from hydrocarbon to electric delivery vehicles in New York City. Columbia Engineering’s technology, developed by its Center for Computational Learning Systems, manages load and delivery and links electrical vehicle charging stations to the utility’s electric distribution management system in real time. FedEx is providing and operating the all-electric vehicles that the collaborative team will study. In addition to providing funding, GE will supply expertise from its Digital Energy division and GE’s Global Research Center to support this program.
- JouleX, Atlanta, GA (Energy Management Systems and Software). JouleX provides a single, network-based, energy-management solution. The JouleX Energy Manager monitors, analyzes and automatically adjusts the energy usage of a network’s connected devices and systems. It has the potential to reduce energy consumption by 30-60 percent. It will enhance GE’s data center solutions to help customers reduce energy consumption in the data center. In addition, the technology will enhance Demand Response Management System capabilities in GE’s Digital Energy business.
- OPOWER, Arlington, VA (Energy Management Systems and Software). OPOWER integrates consumer demographics, energy consumption data and behavioral analytics to encourage households to make intelligent choices around power consumption in their homes. The average user reduces consumption by about 2.5 percent per month, helping to deliver savings. With GE’s global work in Smart Metering and Automatic Metering Infrastructures, OPOWER can help utilities secure buy-in from consumers and public utility commissions.
- Scientific Conservation, San Francisco, CA (Energy Management Systems and Software). This platform monitors and manages energy drift in commercial buildings through predictive maintenance of core energy systems: heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration, lighting, controls and renewable sources. Using its patent pending diagnostics, it typically improves efficiency covering the cost of installation in less than two years. The technology has applications for GE’s Intelligent Platforms building management software business and provides conservation opportunities for GE’s real estate portfolio and GE buildings.
- SecureRF Corporation, Westport, CT (Utility Security). SecureRF provides security solutions that address lower-powered embedded devices that will be used throughout the Smart Grid. Its Algebraic Eraser™ is a public-key cryptography method designed for resource-constrained devices like meters and sensors. GE’s Digital Energy business can draw on this security technology for the smart grid to help utility customers alleviate consumer privacy and data security concerns.
- Sentient Energy, Burlingame, CA (Intelligent Sensor Technologies). Sentient develops advanced grid monitoring solutions that consist of modular intelligent monitoring devices and software applications, enabling cost-effective distribution automation. It improves fault location, cause analysis and remediation, grid capacity management, and utility workforce utilization, presenting integration and partnership opportunities for GE Energy’s Digital Energy offerings.
- Soladigm, Milpitas, CA (Building Efficiency). This window technology electronically switches glass from clear to tinted, enabling control of heat and glare. It can reduce energy usage for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems by 25 percent and reduce the HVAC peak load by 30 percent, an important tool to level demand for the future smart grid infrastructure. With GE’s green homes and green hospitals ecomagination programs, its zero energy home program and other energy efficiency initiatives, there are multiple paths for commercial relationships with the technology
- SustainX, West Lebanon, NH (Energy Storage). This technology provides isothermal, compressed-air energy storage technology to enable cost effective, grid-scale energy storage. SustainX’s approach has the potential to be less than half the cost of traditional compressed-air energy storage. The technology presents opportunities for collaboration with GE’s Global Research Center and commercial partnership opportunities with GE Energy to commercialize energy storage applications and to enable a higher percentage of renewable power generation in markets like Europe.
- SynapSense Corporation, Folsom, CA (Data Center Services). Using a robust wireless sensor network, SynapSense’s solutions measure and manage the environmental conditions and power usage throughout data centers, resulting in a 10 percent reduction in overall energy consumption for typical, enterprise-class data centers. The technology offers commercial relationship opportunities with GE’s Digital Energy business and its Intelligent Platforms business with its visualization and energy management offerings.
There were also five innovation winners that will each receive $100,000 to develop their ideas, and another set of companies will be given $10,000 for being “best in show.” The innovation winners are:
- Capstone Metering: Intelligent Water Meters – Carrollton, Texas. A smart water meter that can generate its own power using water and help conserve water.
- ElectricRoute: Secure Communications Network for the Electric Grid, Salem and Hollis, New Hampshire: Secure network infrastructure to connect substation to transmission and distribution systems.
- GridON: Controlling Power Quality in Electric Grids, Givatayim, Israel. The technology involves a fault-current-limiter that increases gird reliability and enables more intermittent renewables by limiting short-circuiting and outages from overloads.
- IceCode: Wind Turbine Blade Anti-Icing and De-Icing, West Lebanon, NH. High-power pulses remove ice from turbines, limiting the downtime of the turbines. The technology can also be applied in refrigeration and other applications.
- WinFlex: Inflatable Wind Turbines, Kiryat Yam, Israel. Trading steel for inexpensive cloth, these wind turbines reduce the return on investment and cut installation costs.
The reach of General Electric is impressive, and applicants from about 150 countries threw their hats into the ring. While it is potentially daunting to work with corporations the size of GE, both from an intellectual property rights standpoint and a scale issue, parties on both sides seemed genuinely excited about the speed at which this program would allow ideas to turn into market solutions. “There’s no one answer,” said Immelt. “Digital power means consumer liberation.”