The Green Polymath: GE's Net Zero project, and the multidisciplinary mindset

In a new SmartPlanet column, analyst Vinnie Mirchandani discusses General Electric's Net Zero Home campaign and why it takes a new attitude to address the world's "grand challenges."
Written by Vinnie Mirchandani, Contributor

Editor's Note: We'd like to welcome you to a new guest column: "The Green Polymath," by Vinnie Mirchandani. Over the next few weeks, Vinnie will discuss how some of our most familiar enterprise corporations are leveraging an array of new technologies to solve not just their own daily issues, but also the "grand challenges" the world faces.

My name is Vinnie Mirchandani, and I am the author of an upcoming book titled The New Polymath.

A Polymath -- the Greek word for "Renaissance Man," such as Leonardo Da Vinci -- is a person who excels in many disciplines. As our challenges have grown exponentially since the time of Leonardo, today's Polymath can no longer be just one person.

The New Polymath, as the book defines it, is an enterprise that excels in multiple technologies -- infotech, cleantech, healthtech, biotech and other emerging areas -- to create new medicine, new energy and new algorithms. The book is based on interviews with more than 100 innovators from around the world, many focused on cleantech and sustainability.

In the next several guest posts, I will catalog "green" polymath examples from the book.

They include:

  • General Electric's Net Zero solution;
  • The Kleiner Perkins cleantech portfolio; and
  • Germany and China, as they attempt to be well positioned in the burgeoning cleantech market.

I will also cover the sustainability impact on supply chains, and the sustainability impact on future education and events covered in the book.

Let's start with GE's Net Zero.

Last year, GE's Consumer & Industrial business unit announced a concept that aims to allow consumers to reduce their annual energy bills down to zero by 2015.

The concept is a mix of smarter appliances, "small” wind turbines, software serving as the “brains” of home energy management, interfaces connected to the smart grids that utilities are building, hybrid home heaters, LED lighting and next-generation batteries.

The savings from smarter consumption patterns, home fuel generation and possible sale of surplus energy back to the grid should all help with the reduction in the bill from the utility.

Much will need to evolve between now and 2015.

Will utility smart grids be available in many markets? Will nighttime energy costs be low enough to change consumption patterns?

Will the economics of solar panels -- which can cost as much as $10,000 per kilowatt to install -- and wind turbines get much better with manufacturing scale and global competition?

What tax credits will governments offer for home improvements around home cleantech?

Will homes replace appliances as they approach end-of-life, or will they replace them earlier with proper incentives?

There are lots of questions to be asked. However, it is interesting to see the unified vision that GE has pulled together across its many product lines.

We currently face many "grand challenges" -- perhaps more than ever before. Fortunately, the array of new technologies we now have at our disposal allows us to build solutions which we could not a few years ago.

But success needs an "and," not an "or" -- a polymath mindset that GE and others are increasingly providing.

Vinnie Mirchandani is the founder of Deal Architect, a site about technology trends and economics. He's a former Gartner technology industry analyst, PwC outsourcing executive and entrepreneur.

Follow him on Twitter.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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