The California Clean Tech Open, a competition for start-ups, awarded $100,000 in prizes to six companies this fall. Selected from 130 entries in six categories, the companies presented practical technologies that clearly have good chances of commercial success. But none of them captured my imagination quite so much as some of the winners in 2006, the competition's first year, like Kiteship , a company building helium-filled sails that pull giant freighters, or GreenVolts, a solar energy company that got its start when its founder was sailing to New Zealand and discovered that he could help island villages by repairing discarded solar panels. GreenVolts actually received a special award this year, the first "Alumni Award," for outstanding business achievement. GreenVolts is working with PG&E to install what will be the largest concentrating solar array in the world, a 2-megawatt facility in Tracy, Calif. The company also announced that investors have committed $10 million to the company.
This year's winners:
Lucid Design Group won the AMD Smart Power Award for "Building Dashboard," a PC-based tool that allows homeowners to monitor electricity and water use and solar electricity production in real time.
NiLA Inc. took the Energy Efficiency Award for an LED-based stage set lighting system.
1-Solar's low-priced long-life inverters for photovoltaic systems received the Renewables Award.
BuildFast's House Kit, a highly insulated, earthquake resistant, easy to assemble building intended for low-income and post-disaster housing, won the Google Green Building Award.
Synchromatics, a company that developed a bus tracking system that uses GPS and cell phone location to make speed, location, and other data to people operating transit fleets, won the Lexus Transportation Award.
And Microvi Biotech LLC took the Air, Water, & Waste Award with its biotech based waste-free water treatment technologies.
This year's competition featured the youngest team to catch clean-tech start-up fever. Sunergy (formerly Calsunergy) from Santa Clara, Calif., designed a solar system that concentrates the light coming into the cells and simultaneously uses the heat from that light for electricity generation. The CEO, Alec Boyer, is in eighth grade; the rest of the management team is in fifth or sixth grade. The competition has no age limits. Sunergy didn't make the finals, but still plans to announce their first product in 2008, targeted at providing energy in the developing world.