An Update on GE's $200M Smart Grid Challenge


Last month, General Electric (s GE) announced it would be taking submissions from inventors and entrepreneurs seeking a piece of a $200 million smart grid investment fund ($100 million from GE, and $100 million from partner venture firms including Kleiner Perkins and Foundation Capital). Now four weeks later, GE said on Friday that it has received 950 or so submissions from around the world, and it’s clear to us that those ideas range from what could be considered smart to — shall we say — risky potential investments.

If you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve yet to submit your killer idea, you’ll be happy to hear that GE is keeping its “Ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid” open through Sept. 30, and is promising to give $100,000 five winners in the areas of renewables, smart grid and eco-buidlings. GE CEO Jeff Immelt also told us that winners could be targets for more substantial equity investments and potentially M&A opportunities.

GE highlighted a few companies and entrepreneurs in its update today that have generated a lot of interest among contest participants. Take Project Theodore, a proposal to use artificial intelligence to improve grid efficiency. The idea is to combine massive amounts of past grid data with forward-looking information, from traffic reports, weather forecasts or “buzz” generated by social media networks. The brains behind the idea is Sedu Labs, described in forum comments as an “as-of-now unincorporated body representing multiple programmers with multi-year experience.” It’s an intriguing idea, though as one commenter at GE’s site noted,  “incorporating these algorithms into a simple to use UI (User Interface) will be important — and no simple task.”

Another smart grid idea from U.K.-based Wireless Automation Solutions deals with the more prosaic world of home energy use. Its HomeSIDEKICK platform idea includes adaptors, switches and sensors to monitor and control home energy use and communicate with smart meters — the same thing being envisioned by dozens of home energy startups and IT and electronics giants alike (see Google PowerMeter (s goog), Microsoft Hohm (s msft) and GE Nucleus). As commenters at GE’s site noted, it will be a tough market to compete in.

As for Dustin Rauch, a self-described “LEED certified, Civil Engineer & Media Specialist,” his idea is essentially a contest within a contest: Use the Internet to hold a nationwide competition to “earn points, share secrets, and gain recognition for your efforts” in energy efficiency, he writes. It’s an idea that’s also occurred to Microsoft and others in the home energy management space.

Other popular ideas included a call for “ultra-large” ultracapacitors to balance grid fluctuations from a company called HarmonyRe, which doesn’t appear to be in the ultracapacitor business; its Web site is focused on resale of inverters and their racking equipment. Another comes from Santa Fe, N.M.-based Atmocean, which promises clean and cheap power delivered from a navy of tiny floating buoys via 100-mile long hydraulic cables to on-shore generators: a project likely to cost more than $100,000, given the track record of ocean power so far. (We previously named Atmocean’s ocean cooling pipes as one of the top 10 most controversial ways to save the planet.)

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