Clean energy hits home

E-Team grantees focusing on new ways to meet residential energy needs

Even a brief look at the statistics regarding home energy consumption in the US can be staggering: American households consume 355 billion kwh per year for heating and cooling alone; US homes produce 21 percent of the country’s total global warming pollution; by 2020, the US residential sector will account for 11.4 quadrillion BTUs of end-use energy annually…In the long run, satisfying our energy needs while decreasing CO² emissions will require a coordinated effort on a number of fronts, including developing renewable energies and increasing energy efficiency.

Over the years, a number of NCIIA E-Teams have looked to do just that, finding newer, cleaner ways to harness energy for home use and helping us make our homes more efficient. We’re happy to report that some of their efforts are starting to pay off in real commercial outcomes.

Heat Assured Systems

One of our first E-Teams, Heat Assured Systems began as a group of senior engineering and economics majors at Swarthmore College determining the feasibility of a residential heating system that could operate during grid power outages. After a series of E-Team grants and an initial business planning effort, the company is up and running along with its subsidiary, Heat Assured Systems of New York. Their product is EROHS: the Efficient, Robust, Off-grid Heating System. Based on a patented scheme that includes an innovative proprietary controller, EROHS solves two problems at once by enabling several types of home heating systems to function normally during power grid outages and improving energy efficiency when the grid is operational. It’s the kind of integrated, multi- purpose technology that we’ll need in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

Commenting on EROHS’ commercialization potential, Heat Assured Systems President Fred Orthlieb said, “Tests of the EROHS prototype have exceeded the company’s performance goals. We’re conducting field tests this winter and plan to launch the first generation of the product commercially shortly thereafter. With energy prices rising and the green economy finally taking hold, the timing could not be better.”

Solar Ivy

Another novel clean energy system comes from a brother-and- sister startup team from Brooklyn, NY, that received E-Team funding in 2006. Teresita and Samuel Cochran founded SMIT (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology), whose first product is GROW, a hybrid solar and wind panel designed to resemble ivy vines. Based on principles of biomimicry in which technology imitates nature, GROW consists of flexible solar foil molded to look like ivy and piezoelectric generators that are activated by the leaves. The panels are beautiful, too, hanging vertically on the walls of buildings to form a product that is both environmentally and aesthetically sound.

While GROW hasn’t made it to market as yet—they’re currently seeking investor funding—the product has been featured in a number of media outlets (Fox Business, Planet Green, Inhabitat) and design exhibits. The exposure is generating demand: according to Teresita Cochran, they’re getting calls weekly from companies in France, Italy, Great Britain, Greece and South Africa saying they want GROW now.

i-conserve

One home energy E-Team that has already met with success is i-conserve, a Penn State company. I-conserve developed the Home Energy Monitor™, a handheld device that communicates with a home’s utility meter, graphing electrical consumption, estimating utility bills, showing the current price of electricity, and calculating the carbon footprint generated by the building, all in real time. The idea, of course, is to get people to understand how much electricity they’re using—and encourage them to use less.

In November of 2007, i-conserve sold its IP portfolio and technology assets to Greenbox, a California company creating an interactive energy management platform for the home.

ecoMOD

One of our newer green building grantees is ecoMOD, an ongoing project at the University of Virginia in which students construct affordable, modular homes that use 30-50% less energy than similar houses. This one hits on the concepts of both equity and environmental responsibility: not only should good housing be affordable for all, it should be lean and green as well. This means integrating a whole suite of energy-saving techniques and devices into the house: solar water heaters, passive design, using reclaimed materials, designing for disassembly and much more. They’ve built five houses so far, funded by a variety of non-profits, corporations and the EPA.

According to PI Paxton Marshall, the group is pursuing two commercialization initiatives. “We’re promoting the house designs to affordable housing agencies and modular manufacturers. Meanwhile, we’re promoting our residential energy monitoring system as a solution to provide residents timely feedback on their energy use, and also as a building block for developing energy-saving automation and control applications to interface with smart grid technologies.”

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Each of these companies is bringing to market technology that we can use to make our homes more efficient in the long run—small parts of a larger effort that will contribute to the green economy.