TED Conversations

Closing Statement from Tore Land, Director, GE Ecomagination Challenge

We at GE want to give our heartfelt thanks to the TED community for participating in this conversation. Your ideas and insights -- ranging from home automation and discussions about a two-way grid to apps and gaming methods that can drive behavior change -- have been fascinating to read and stimulating to respond to.

On a personal note, as the host of this conversation, I want to thank you for your participation and fresh thinking here. And on behalf of the whole ecomagination Challenge team, we look forward to working with you to help imagine and build technology that can meet these pressing environmental challenges.

GE believes widespread adoption of clean energy technology will start in the home. And we believe the second phase of the ecomagination Challenge will help drive that change. We invite you to continue to follow this project via our website:

http://challenge.ecomagination.com/home

We're currently reviewing the submissions to the challenge and, together with our partners, will evaluate the most innovative. We'll be announcing the winners next month -- stay tuned for the announcement!

Home energy is a critical global challenge, and we want the TED Community to know we are committed to building -- and scaling up -- innovative solutions.

Thank you for letting us pick your brains!

Sincerely,
Tore Land
Director, GE ecomagination Challenge

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    Feb 18 2011: Graham's point below about using outdoor air to chill refrigerators is spot on, but I don't think it goes far enough (in fact, there are minimart outside air chiller solutions already in place, and heat pumps are sort of a techno-version of what he's proposing)

    We should recognize that houses are not spaces, but surfaces which separate inside from outside. The severity of this separation defines the eco-responsiveness of household living.

    For example, in the Brady Bunch house, the separation was complete. Electricity, natural gas, water, and groceries were the only inputs to the system (processed into light, entertainment, warmth, cold, sterility, and dinner) and the only outputs were "waste" (waste heat, gray water, black water, and garbage). The inputs were generally divorced from the local ecosystem within which the house existed -- artificial electricity and gas, water from a reservoir hundreds of miles away, and groceries from the store via the newly constructed interstate highway system. Wastes were just as separate, pushed into pipes below the street, whisked "away" as quickly as possible.

    No wonder the Bradys got canceled.

    To find an alternative vision of how a house might operate in a more integrated way, you need only move forward to the present day to look at permaculture construction strategies, or back 400 or so years to the great estates of Britain. These homes (to greater or lesser extent) look at the flows of energy and matter around and through the surface of a house as potential motive forces for beneficial work. Water comes from springs on the property which are replenished through careful swale construction and vegetation management. Likewise, energy comes in the form of current solar income (solar panels, solar hot water, passive heating strategies) or stored solar income (fuel from the woodlot). Food can be grown on property, and it can be fertilized with with composted organic wastes.

    Buildings are membranes. Separation means death.
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      Feb 18 2011: Dominic when you discuss the flow of energy and matter around and through the surface of a house I think of natural ventilation and natural lighting as a strategy for heating and cooling buildings. It is my understanding that before the air conditioner was invented, designers were skilled at heating and cooling interior spaces without "treating" air via mechanical ventilation. Homes were "skinnier", and homeowners were more tolerant of variation in light and temperature. With the air conditioner hit the scene, the ‘comfort zone’ model to design - which specifies a narrow envelope of temperature, humidity, airflow, and light availability that is physically comfortable for humans - began to dominate. Buildings got "fatter", and homeowners were comforted by the ability to retreat to their homes where they could create with the flick of a switch homogeneous environmental conditions.

      I have heard architects discuss the inherent beauty of variation light in buildings (versus the homogeneous light provided in the interior of fat homes), and the need for greater variation in temperature in buildings (which would dramatically reduce energy costs). Do you think we will reach an era when homeowners in the developed world embrace variation versus homogeneity? What might expedite this cultural shift?

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