If anyone asks where the spirit of invention has gone in the United States, look no further than its green technology start-ups. New businesses are cropping up in places like Allentown and Cleveland that are creating innovative new products - domestically designed and manufactured.
Tonight, I walked into the EcoFocus conference in Manhattan with an extremely skeptical mindset, expecting to see the usual showcase of big vendors "greenwashing" products in cleverly conceived marketing campaigns, an open bar, and possibly a sprinkling of eco organizations. I left with a much more favorable impression.
Allure Energy has integrated home energy management with entertainment, Blu Homes took some cues from the "Transformers" franchise to build high-tech prefab homes, Lutron Electronics invented a dimmer switch for CFL lighting, Tremont Electric has built a wearable kinetic energy generator, and Nokero is brightening the developing world.
Remember those bulky tapedeck systems that were built into some 'state of the art' homes during the 70's and 80's? You might be unlucky enough to still have one stuck into your wall. Allure's EverSense console is voice-controlled touchscreen that will save energy by controlling your thermostat and stream music from your iPad. Future add-ons will integrate with wireless speakers placed around your home.
California and Massachusetts-based precision homebuilder, Blu Homes announced that it has raised $25 million in capital from two VCs. Blu makes what it calls "precision homes" that the company says will lower a family’s carbon footprint, energy use, and water use by 70%. Homes are pre-fab, so they must be shipped. Its engineers met that design challenge by building components that fold up like a Transformer, said spokesperson Dana Smith.
One of the biggest gripes people have with CFL bulbs is that they won't work with a dimmer switch. Pennsylvania's Luton Electronics redesigned the switch. Its booth was demonstrating in-wall switches and a plug-in dimmer for lamps. I'll note that the packaging says that the lamp switch is assembled in St. Kitts. The company is privately held, and would not share sales figures. The switches are currently on sale at Home Depot and Lowes home improvement stores.
Tremont Electric would be placed at the very top if this list wasn't alphabetical. Its nPower PEG (for personal energy generator) captures passive kinetic energy. It's about the size of an umbrella, and would fit in a backpack or briefcase. Expect to talk for about week to charge its battery up fully, said spokesperson Tim Russo.
The PEG is capable of charging an iPhone 3 to full capacity and an iPhone 4 to 75% of its capacity. An iPod Nano fares much better: one minute of walk time will produce one minute of music listening. It takes 26 minutes of walking for one minute of talk time on an iPhone. Ten minutes of rigorous shaking is good for an emergency call.
PEG will go on sale online in about a month, retailing for US$169.99. Likely customers are people who spend a lot of time outdoors, medical device implants, and the U.S. military. The Pentagon is interested in integrating PEG into body armor, and the Navy could built a sea-based floating kinetic energy platform, Russo said.
Solar power's potential to improve lives in the developing world was on display by Nokero. Nokero stands for "no kerosene." Kerosene is commonly used to make light in the developing world, but kerosene isn't environmentally friendly, isn't renewable, and can negatively impact human health.
Nokero makes green alternatives including a hanging solar light bulb and a solar powered reading light. Children's Fund is partnering with the company to distribute its products to villages in Africa as well as some impoverished areas in the United States. Children's fund buys in bulk to lower costs down to $5.50 and $3.95 per unit, respectively.
Breathing in fumes from a kerosene light is equivalent to being exposed 40 cigarettes every day, Children's Fund spokesperson Marica Roder said. "It's a health intervention," she added, and saves families 30 cents per day in kerosene fuel costs. The reading light is intended to allow children to do homework at night.
It looks increasingly likely that green jobs are here to stay. Resource scarcity is only now beginning as world population surges, more economies develop, and energy demand spikes. More innovation is needed, but the question remains - will it come from the United States?
(Image Credits: Companies listed above)
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