Saturday, May 7, 2011

Two top contenders at the GE ECOmagination challenge enter into cooperation

General Electric organized the ECOmagination Challenge, a technology innovation competition where contenders propose solutions with a significant impact on residential energy conservation and residential renewable energy. The contenders are classified according to popularity and discussions on their projects. Much of the discussion originates from interested technologists and engineers from all over the world, peer contenders and their network. The ECOmagination jury will select the best five ideas/concepts for an innovation price of $ 100,000. In addition, GE will propose business deals to selected contenders, in close cooperation with major venture capital firms, and has allocated $200 million for financing"

Two of the top contenders, James Post and Shawn Buckley, are announcing cooperation between their startups.
Together with a Dutch team, James developed a wind turbine that fits on the ridge of gable roofs. The turbine is typically placed over the full width of the roof and –as the diameter is only 22” (45 cm)- it is not intrusive and aesthetically pleasing, while being very economical (end user: $ 4,000 for a 1.8 kW wind turbine (@ 10m/s/22 mph) including a 3 kW grid tied inverter that also accepts solar PV). Current technologies (both horizontal and vertical axis) require at least a 10’ (3m) diameter turbine for the same output, are bulky (and therefore aesthetically unacceptable) and problematic to mount on a residential roof.
James believes that this is the first serious attempt to massively introduce residential wind energy and his strategy is to obtain exemption for building permits and zoning requirements, considering the limited impact on the construction of the building and acceptable aesthetics that will even please the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) crowd.
James’ business model is to set up a nationwide and international network of dealer/installers and support this network via (already selected) Master Distributors in North America and Europe. James recognizes the strategic importance to have architects and contractors on his side and therefore plans an extensive co-op program.
Shawn and his partners developed a solar PV concentrator. Using Fresnel mirrors, the sunlight is concentrated on an amount of silicon that is only 5% of the silicon required by a traditional solar PV panel with the same output. As the silicon is expensive and the Fresnel mirrors cheap – especially at large volumes -- this is a technology that may well change the solar PV arena. The system is supplied as a number of 4’ x 8’ units (1.20m x 2.40 m): 6-10 units in dry climates and 10-16 units in humid climates.
What makes Shawn’s system special is that in addition to delivering electricity, the module also captures solar heat that can heat tap water and heat homes. The solar CPV panel therefore doubles as a solar heater, while improving efficiency. This doubles the savings offered by the solar PV concentrator.
Shawn’s business model is to lease complete solar energy systems to roof-owners. His company would install, maintain and service the system in exchange for a multi-year revenue stream where heat and electricity savings are shared with the roof-owner. In the U.S. the lease is free: federal tax subsidies pay for the complete cost of an installed system.
Both James’ and Shawn’s designs are breakthrough approaches and during the ECOmagination Challenge they recognized each other’s strengths. After a few brainstorming weeks they came with the following concept, marrying their technologies in a highly efficient manner:
On top of the RidgeBlaster wind turbine, a custom solar PV concentrator is mounted that replaces the cap that normally covers the wind turbine. This combination has a series of advantages:
1. The installation cost is hardly higher than that of the wind turbine (or solar PV concentrator) alone.
2. The position on top of the roof guarantees unobstructed sunlight exposure to the solar CPV system, independent of how the roof is positioned.
3. Both systems share one inverter; a significant cost savings

This way, James adds value to his wind turbine and increases the total renewable output that brings energy neutral homes closer to reality, while Shawn indirectly accesses a wide-spread international distribution network without the associated work and can concentrate on his own business model.
... Here are the links to their entries at the GE ECOmagination Challenge:
About James Post - James is a Dutch national, currently living in Grenada. He managed startup Proton Electronics vof, which developed high tech electronics in the 1970’s and was the first small company selected by the Dutch government to participate in high tech missions to India and Asia. Proton Electronics became famous by their 2 chip video terminal set that emulated the much larger Televideo terminal board and the Single Board Computer that was licensed to India.  With the same team he formed Ultimate Technology BV, also in Naarden, the Netherlands. The objective was to design an EDA (Electronic Design Automation) PC based system that would rival (expensive) workstation based systems. The product, Ultiboard, became famous because of the “real time design rule check” that worked faster on a low end PC than many workstations based systems. After 10 years Ultiboard became European market leader with more than 20,000 users and is now owned by National Instruments PLC.  In addition to the RidgeBlaster James also entered a solar air conditioning system (solar space heating, cooling and dehumidification) that reduces energy consumption by 65-95% and the Energy Conservation Controller, a home automation system that automatically switches lights on and off and adjusts temperatures based on person’s presence in the room, controlled by user settings: The 3 systems, while entered separately in the GE ECOmagination Challenge, together form the main ingredients for zero energy homes.
About Shawn Buckley - Dr. Shawn Buckley is an American who led the development of the MIT solar module in the 1970s. Buckley’s group pioneered cheap and fast module fabrication in small factories. Buckley left MIT to help found Hydro-Sun, the Chevron Oil subsidiary that licensed his MIT technology and poured $10 million into its development.  As an MIT mechanical engineering professor, his specialties were solar energy and manufacturing. Buckley also taught at Berkeley, UCLA and Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China’s top ME school. Before MIT, Buckley received his PhD summa cum laude at UC-Berkeley where he developed “ground effects” that lets racecars corner faster. Sponsored by Group Lotus (Wymondham, UK), the research led to Lotus winning the Formula One World Constructor’s Championship and Mario Andretti winning the F1 Drivers Championship in 1978.  Shawn is the author of Sunup to Sundown (McGraw-Hill), a layman's book on solar energy that has sold 20,000 copies. He holds 26 US patents, including 9 in solar energy. Shawn has 30 years management experience, having founded 6 Silicon Valley startups in solar energy (2), manufacturing (2), consumer products and sourcing.
About the GE ECOmagination Challenge - In Phase II of the GE ECOmagination Challenge, a $200 million innovation experiment, businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators and students share their best ideas on how to improve our energy future – and just might get funded. Phase II of the ECOmagination Challenge focuses on "Powering Your Home": innovative ideas about capturing, managing, and using energy in the home.  General Electric teamed up with some of the best-known venture capital firms, including Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, KPCB and RockPort Capital, to help back the most promising ideas.

Environmental News Network (ENN)
March 21, 2011

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