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Crowning the Clean Tech Stars

Can a prize-granting contest spur the development of technology that helps the environment? The winners of this year's California Clean Tech Open sure hope so

5 min read

Last November, two electrical engineers attending a seminar in Palo Alto, Calif., on environmentally beneficial technology decided that they personally could make a difference. Laurent Pacalin and Michael Santullo didn’t have money to invest or a big company behind them, but they had an idea: they would hold a contest.

In January, they started raising money with the help of the MIT Club of Northern California, and in March, they announced the establishment of the California Clean Tech Open, in Palo Alto, with US $500 000 in prizes. They brought in advisors and judges who had themselves launched new technologies and got San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to sign on as host of the launch.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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