Associated Press The program, called the Ecomagnination Challenge, is aimed at fostering ideas that will help speed up the development of the so-called “smart grid” — that is, what energy experts say is a much-needed digital upgrade to the nation’s aging and largely analog electric system.
In announcing the program, G.E.’s chief executive, Jeff Immelt, said the company was hoping to make resources available to those with the most innovative ideas for improving energy creation and distribution in the United States — and ultimately around the globe.
“We know how to make things, we know how to sell things, we know how to service things,” Mr. Immelt said during a panel discussion in San Francisco on Tuesday morning. “We have a big brand, so let’s go.”
From now until Sept. 30, budding smart-grid entrepreneurs will be able to submit their proposals in one of three areas that the investors see as central to ramping up use of renewables:
• Maximizing penetration of clean energy into the grid.
• Improving the efficiency of the grid.
• Helping electricity customers use energy more wisely.
An “evaluation committee” comprising representatives from GE and its investment partners — which include RockPort Capital, K.P.C.B., Foundation Capital and Emerald Technology — will determine which ideas merit financing and, perhaps, a partnership with G.E. in developing and distributing the idea.
Visitors to the program’s Web site will also be able to vote for their favorite ideas. The most popular, pending the panel’s review, will receive a cash award of $50,000, and five submissions will receive $500,000 each in cash, along with consideration for further collaboration and commercial development.
The growth of renewable energy presents a variety of challenges for the nation’s electric grid and for the Obama administration, which in last year’s stimulus package allocated $11 billion in grants and loan guarantees to go toward upgrading it.
And it’s not just a matter of transmission capacity — although this is certainly a significant issue. A smarter electric grid would, presumably, give ratepayers greater control over their own energy usage and costs. It would also allow utilities and transmission authorities to more efficiently and discretely manage the flow of electricity as it courses through the system — something that could go a long way toward curbing overall energy waste and reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.
“With this challenge we are inviting others to work with our partners and us to accelerate progress in creating a cleaner, more efficient and economically viable grid,” Mr. Immelt said. “We want to jump-start new ideas and deploy them on a scale that will modernize the electrical grid around the world.”
By 2:30 p.m. in New York, four ideas had already been submitted — including one from Krishna Venkata Rama of Houston.
“The soda vending machines use large amounts of electricity 24 hours a day,” Mr. Venkata Rama explained. “What if we have an instant soda chiller which takes less than 60 seconds to chill the soda. We can eliminate huge amounts of electricity across the world.”