GE’s smart grid challenge unveils home energy winners

GE has unveiled the second group of winners of its smart grid challenge, this time focused on energy use in the home. GE (s ge) says along with its VC partners, it’s investing another $63 million — of its $200 million fund — into 10 companies and giving $100,000 awards to 5 more. Along with the funds, GE announced a partnership to commercialize some of the technologies with Best Buy (s bby), and also announced plans to launch another smart grid challenge in China later this year.

GE launched its $200 million smart grid challenge a year ago, in conjunction with a group of venture capitalists, including Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins, RockPort Capital and the Carbon Trust. GE put up $100 million and the VCs collectively put up another $100 million, and the idea was to use the funds and the allure of partnerships with GE to help discover innovation around the smart grid, from networking technologies to new home energy management tools.

The funds announced on Thursday are the second stage of the smart grid challenge focused on home energy innovation, and the challenge previously unveiled another group of a dozen or so winners back in November. GE says with this additional $63 million the fund has allocated, or has planned to give, $134 million of the $200 million fund. In total, GE says the challenge to date has created 22 commercial partnerships, one acquisition (Irish powerline monitoring company FMC-Tech), and 5,000 submissions from 74,000 innovators.

OK, so enough of the background, and onto the winners. The 10 companies that will split $63 million are:

  • Ember. Makes Zigbee chips and networking tech. Zigbee is a wireless standard used in smart meters and home energy gear.
  • GMZ Energy. Develops thermoelectric material for vehicles and solar systems and services, such as applications for cooling and capturing waste heat. Kleiner Perkins had already backed this company, and GE’s investment was made alongside Kleiner Perkin’s.
  • Hara. One of the more well-known carbon and energy software players. Another investment alongside Kleiner.
  • Nuventix. Has developed a way to cool down LEDs without using a larger fixture size.
  • On-Ramp WirelessA smart grid wireless networking player.
  • Project Frog. A building efficiency and design company. This is an investment with RockPort Capital.
  • SunRun. A startup that has created a business model around home solar roofs, where it owns and maintains residential solar panels and offer solar contracts to homeowners where they can pay monthly fees over many years, with little or no upfront fee. GE’s investment in SunRun was made with Foundation Capital.
  • Viridity Energy. Makes software that dynamically manages power loads on the grid in terms of energy pricing, renewable energy generation and energy storage (one of our Green:Net 2011 Big Ideas winners).
  • VPhaseA U.K.-based home energy device and service maker.
  • WiTricity. A wireless charging tech maker that is targeting gadgets, cell phones and electric cars.

And the 5 “Innovation winners” that received $100,000 each:

  • E.quinox. A U.K.-based project to bring off grid clean power to developing countries.
  • PlotWattFirst unveiled at our Green:Net 2011 event, PlotWatt has created smart meter software that deliveries energy-saving recommendations.
  • Pythagoras Solar. Created solar window technology.
  • Suntulit. A smarter air conditioning system that can reduce energy consumption from HVAC.
  • Xergy. An efficient compressor for refrigerators and air conditioning systems.

Beyond these 15 winners, GE announced a partnership with Best Buy, which will work on commercializing the VPhase home energy device and service (check it out on their website), and the Suntulit air conditioning control system. GE has already been working with Best Buy to get its own home energy devices into Best Buy stores in 2012.

GE has a strong interest in the home energy market. At CES in January, GE showed off its new Home Energy Management business, including its Nucleus home energy device, as well as its Brillion line of smart appliances and smart thermostats. All these are meant to connect within the home to GE’s smart meters, then as a gateway to the smart grid.

Image is of GE’s own home energy device the Nucleus.