Energy Grand Challenges for the 21st Century

September 22 2008 / by jvarden
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 7 Hot

“If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Grand Challenges can be defined as fundamental problems in need of solutions. An Energy Grand Challenge is indeed what its name implies – a competition to be challenged and won in regard to energy use, sustainability, cost, and efficiency.

Multiple teams enter as candidates to reach the goal, whether it is a certain level of fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide removal, or future energy solutions. The winner receives a prize, usually in the form of a generously large sum of money. But the Challenge’s impact, however, is not only on the team that wins the grand prize, but the technology that springs from the research, which can expand its positive influence to affect the world.

While there are innumerable Energy Grand Challenges occurring at any given time, here are a handful of them, accompanied by a brief description:

- Progressive Automotive X: $10 million prize for clean and efficient vehicles

- Zayed Future Energy: $1.5 million grand prize for innovative future energy solutions

- Virgin Earth: $25 million for greenhouse gas removal

- ConocoPhillips Energy: $300,000 for improving energy efficiency, developing new energy resources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions

- GE International: $750,000+ for energy conversion, reduced energy use, new energy sources, and energy efficiency

- DTE Clean Energy Prize: $100,000 to be divided among the winners for developing plans to make clean energy marketable

Be sure to stay tuned to The Energy Roadmap this week as we more closely examine each of the above challenges. And let us know of any others that you’d like us yo add to the list!

Comment Thread (2 Responses)

  1. Great list. I am a BIG BIG BIG believer in contests and gaming for innovation. This bodes well for the future, will help sustain acceleration.

    It’d also be interesting to look at smaller innovative games that could push forward energy innovation and understanding.

    Looking forward to the break-outs.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   September 22, 2008
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  2. This is a great list, but I wonder if even the biggest prize, the Virgin Earthy prize, is big enough. There are a few catches and it would require, I imagine, quite a lot of venture-type funding to start research on something like that. I am thrilled it exists though.

    Posted by: Mielle Sullivan   September 23, 2008
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  1. Games and contests are powerful frameworks for idea and behavior selection that have played a big role in the human learning process. Because communication is key to organizing large complex games, it should come as no surprise that the rapidly quickening web is catalyzing an explosion in competitions of all sorts, including robust new innovation contests. It's interesting to contemplate how these might evolve as bandwidth and web intelligence continues to accelerate over the next decade. !! Humans have already deployed large-scale "positive-sum": innovation contests pertaining to "private space flight":, "the manufacturing of more fuel-efficient cars":, a "wide variety of energy goals": and even "broad world changing ideas":, just to list a few. Companies are increasingly turning to games for "logos":, "commercials":, "machinima":, and so forth. Nimble little social media companies are launching myriad contest websites for all sorts of content. It can also be argued (and I am doing so) that web powerhouses like "Digg": and "Stumble Upon":, or even RSS Lists like "Techmeme" (many tech bloggers customize their content to increase the likelihood it will get picked up here) are fundamentally contest-based. The cool part is that they also represent a big leap forward in web content organization. That being the current state of things, how can we then expect contests to evolve over, say, the next 10 years? <b>Contests as Work:</b> As the web gets more reliable, robust, and broad, people will perform more work via remote connections. It will then become possible to add effective, proven contest structures to these efforts (think the next generation of contest sites) that will reduce the need for oversight and up prouctivitiy and output. <b>Invisible Contests:</b> As the web gets better at quantifying human behavior, certain companies, groups and governments will want access to this data. One way (out of many) of getting at this data will be hosting contests that people can win (wholesale or incrementally) and benefit from on a regular basis. Just do what you do, and if you do anything that the system really likes (perform an efficient new search algorithm, fall into a personality category ideal for a certain study, etc), it will reward you for it. This way you can be playing many games without having to divert your focus from your interests. <b>Hierarchical Contest Structures:</b> Companies like Google already have a game-like hierarchy built in to their corporate structure. Expect these models to evolve as new companies based more exclusively on gaming are born and then scale. It is possible that such "automated" companies (with the right human and software assets) will be able to move far more quickly than traditional companies.

    Posted by:    September 24, 2008