The X Prize Foundation made news last week with a $100 million dollars of prize money for a “suite” of categories in cost effective energy and minimal environmental impact. Two prizes are decided, the ultra efficient passenger vehicle and the biofuel prize we have already heard about.

Here is the meat about the rest of the money. The Foundation is focusing on alternative power generation, energy efficiency, buildings and housing, energy storage and “carbon.” It’s likely the funders have considerable influence on how these targets are selected. The principles the foundation offers where they use the word “mandate” include: a positive influence on global warming, progress toward clean, green and renewable energy, equity of opportunity and fair division of resources, and the global impact. One might detect some impractical or self-satisfying limitations in these “mandates.”

Getting more dreamy is the principle of pursuing prize concepts that promote a world “where energy is no longer a source of conflict and pollution, such energy will someday be: affordable and abundant, clean and renewable and used efficiently and equitably.” These all sound great. But applying them to a specific prize may well cancel out much in the way of improvement. Incremental gains accumulated over time and as the energy economy matures, could well be very different than any expectations we have today.

Finally, just to forewarn aspirants to winning a prize of millions of dollars, “We will actively pursue concepts that restore environmental balance, such that: carbon emissions are declining, forests and habitat are secure, industry and commerce are accomplished sustainably, and healthy air, water and living conditions are available to all.”

Some areas for prizes are thought to be in carbon capture, solar, water, sustainable housing and other areas of interest. With $100 million in the pot, I would have thought they would have a better handle on where the money will be awarded.

The prize idea is a great motivator and source of inspiration for those looking at innovation as a career. Looking over the Foundation’s pdf leaves a reader with a vague sense of wandering on the part of the Foundation. Maybe from a public relations point of view, the announcement makes some sense, but there isn’t anything for inventors, researchers, designers and developers to grip.

The pdf offer a nice chart. Its not real useful, the connections between the main areas of production, delivery, use and integration are not there.

While many news sources played the announcement up in a big way last week, there isn’t much there, yet. The prospects for the creative side need a lot more hard data, as what is available now is, well, food for hype and “feel good” writing. There isn’t anything for consumers either, a causal reading leaves one bereft of connecting the prizes to real life.

On the other hand, the announced prizes have firmed up well. The auto prize has something like more than 60 entries already. The foundation can get its act together. Its just a little puzzling to see things like what happened last week.

The news isn’t the stories we saw last week. The news is they have the money committed to $100 Million Dollars to be spread over a yet to be determined list of prizes. That’s great news.

Its clear is the foundation, like so very many others, is still at somewhat of a loss for direction. This is true for everyone. But, some things are really clear in the physics, chemistry and biology of the universe and our lives in it.

The opportunities are staggering, and the ways to get to the Foundations goal’s and the goals of each of us are just beginning to be developed. Much will change, most unseen, some visual joys, some hard realist choices are coming.

There is unlimited energy to be had, its getting it in useful form and making efficient and effective use of it that are the problems. Lets hope the X Prize Foundations ratchets up the sophistication level s few notches and quickly. They offer a lot, and making their notoriety and economic power more effective would be a top goal right now.

Think it through, one can offer one’s own prize suggestions, the link (Click on “Propose an X Prize”)on the Foundation’s page is in the lower left column. You might have a better idea what the prizes should be.


3 Comments so far

  1. Global Warming » This Might Work - $100 Million Dollar Prize on May 7, 2008 9:02 AM

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