General Electric stepped up its game in the smart grid industry today, launching both a charging device for electric vehicles and a $200 million contest calling for projects working to make electrical grids cleaner and more efficient. Both developments were rolled out under the banner of Ecomagination, GE’s green initiative.
The company is partnering with venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital and RockPort Capital to host the smart grid competition. All of these firms have been eying the smart grid as a rich category for investment.
GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt predicts the grid innovation market will swell to $1.5 billion in as little as two years and will become 10 times as big over the next two decades. GE’s goal will be to dominate at least 50 percent of this market worldwide.
One of the major facets of the new smart grid is how it will handle an increasing number of electric vehicles. Envisioning a future where many consumers come home and plug in their cars at the end of the day, GE has launched a charging device called the WattStation that can fill up a car battery in four to six hours (pictured above). The company says the charger will hit the market by the end of the year.
The device, clearly intended for home use, is indicative of the growing attention being paid to electric transportation infrastructure. While General Motors, Nissan, Fisker Automotive and others are gearing up to launch their plug-in vehicles in the next several months, the infrastructure needed to charge their batteries and extend their driving ranges is still lacking.
Venture-backed companies like Coulomb Technologies and Better Place have jumped on the problem early — rolling out roadside-charging and battery-switching stations — but will probably not be enough to provide a fast, scalable solution. There’s a big opportunity here for major corporations, like GE, that have the capital to deploy many charging sites at once, while also investing in further R&D to reduce charging times.
In addition to the EV charging device, GE used today’s announcement to promote its home energy management system, dubbed Nucleus (pictured right). This is another device that will allow all GE smart appliances to beam their energy consumption information to a central dashboard or web site.
The idea is for consumers to be able to plug in the device and have it work immediately without any fuss or elaborate setup necessary. Immelt says that early testing of the system indicates that consumers, when armed with the knowledge of exactly how much energy they are using, generally cut their consumption by about a tenth.