SAN FRANCISCO General Electric Co and a group of four venture capital firms said on Tuesday they were putting up $200 million to spark development of new technologies in smart grid electrical systems.
The largest U.S. conglomerate's goal is to expand rapidly its presence in that market, which it believes could grow by a factor of ten to about $120 billion over the next two decades, said Jeff Immelt, GE's chief executive.
Smart grid equipment, which can give utilities greater control over energy use, helping smooth demand surges and possibly allowing consumers to save money by using power at off-peak times, is currently a $15 billion to $20 billion market globally and represents "a couple billion" dollars in annual revenue for GE, Immelt said.
GE and the four firms -- Kleiner Perkins Caufield, RockPort Capital, Emerald Technology Ventures and Foundation Capital -- will evaluate ideas submitted at the company's Website both for their technological savvy and commercial viability.
"We want to accelerate the process and we want to make GE really the go-to brand both from a customer and from an entrepreneurial standpoint," Immelt told reporters on a conference call ahead of an event in San Francisco where company officials will discuss the move. "The market is still in its infancy, but if GE is known as really the go-to place for both sides, both from the customer and technology side, I think that just gives us a big competitive advantage."
The conglomerate and the venture capital firms will invest $200 million in a fund to back the most promising ideas. Immelt declined to say what size grants or funding each winner would receive, but noted that the technologies selected will receive GE's commercial backing and access to its global research center.
It plans to accept entries through September 30, announce a short list of finalists in late October and name the companies and individuals that will win the fund's backing around November 8.
Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE, which is the world's largest maker of electricity-producing turbines, also said it is launching a new product called the WattStation intended to charge plug-in electric cars, such as Nissan Motor Co's forthcoming Leaf.
(Reporting by Braden Reddall, writing by Scott Malone, editing by Matthew Lewis)