GE CEO Jeff Immelt And CMO Beth Comstock On The $200 Million Ecomagination Challenge

Earlier today in San Francisco, General Electric announced the launch of its Ecomagination Challenge — a $200 million investment created in partnership with VC funds Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and RockPort Capital. The money will be used to invest in green grid technologies (applicants are invited to submit ideas over the next ten weeks). Today’s TechCrunch NOW episode focuses on the fund, featuring an interview between our own Evelyn Rusli and GE SVP and CMO Beth Comstock.

I also had the chance to sit down with GE CEO and Chairman Jeff Immelt, who shared some more details on the ecomagination challenge, as well as his overall outlook at green tech. Immelt says that the Challenge will definitely pave the way for M&A opportunities (he noted that GE already has equity stakes in plenty of companies as well). Immelt also says that green tech has proven to be one of the most resilient areas of the market during the economic downturn.

However, Immelt says he has one major regret that should resonate with many people (particularly those outside of the San Francisco area): the term “green tech” has gotten some elitist connotations, which stands in contrast to GE’s blue-collar nature. Immelt says this is one thing he would go back and change if he could, and that in the future he believes that terms like “digital energy” will become more common.

So what’s going to drive the adoption of greener technologies like the smart grid? Immelt says that GE is already seeing adoption from many power companies, like the Bay Area’s PG&E. And he thinks that in some cases if the power companies aren’t willing to adapt, consumer demand for these advances will be driving them forward. In fact, he believes that we may eventually see the utilities themselves becoming suppliers of next-gen green appliances.