This year's Innovation Pipeline at West Coast Green was relatively small.  In part this may reflect the state of the economy, which has lead to decreased investments in new building technologies.  Despite that, there are a few interesting technologies that have been brought to market recently or will hopefully be available soon.  Here's a look at several products that may just change the future of this industry. 

1. H2Orb


The H2Orb from AquaOne Technologies is a small sphere with a display that connects to the water supply line and two remote sensors.  It detects leaks or overflows, and then sounds an alarm or shuts off the water or both.  At $125 it's more expensive than low-end toilets, so why would a homeowner spend that kind of money?  It makes more sense to replace an old, leaky toilet with a new, low gallon-per-flush model. But the H2Orb was inspired by the needs of assisted living facilities and other institutional buildings where a leak or an overflow might go unnoticed for long periods.  Multiply a small leak by dozens or hundreds of toilets over days or weeks, and staggering amounts of water can be wasted.  It can also protect against damage by shutting off the water in the event of an overflow.  AquaOne says it can be installed in 7 minutes.

2. IceCold


Designed for large HVAC systems, IceCold is like anti-cholesterol medicine for refrigerant.  It works by reducing oil fouling in the coils and thereby increasing system efficiency.  It's expensive, but it's a one-time application, and they promise a 10% or better improvement by measuring efficiency before and after application.

3. SolarClover


Uniquely shaped solar panels from Armageddon Energy, the SolarClover is designed to be lighter, more flexible, and easier to install than traditional solar panels. The SolarClover system uses micro inverters on each cluster instead of a single inverter for the whole array (similar to the Solar in a Box system).  That means the home run is AC at lower voltages than a DC home run would be, and the overall system efficiency is less impacted by shading of a few panels.  Look for it on the market during 2010.

4. Stak Blocks


A new twist on straw bale construction, Oryzatech compresses rice straw (an agricultural waste product) into interlocking blocks.  Walls are bolted to the foundation with threaded rods running top to bottom through holes, which also provide vertical chases for electrical.  The resulting walls are R-50, fire-resistant, and provide better shear strength than a traditional sheathed 2×4 wall.  The blocks are about 30 pounds each, and easily cut with a saw.  There are still some problems to sort out, including horizontal runs of electrical and plumbing, but it's an exciting product idea.  Oryzatech is currently looking for investors, so there's no announced release date.

5. BrightSpark


Using wireless technology, BrightSpark from Econetix is a plug-and-play home energy management system.  There will be a DIY starter kit for $250 that includes a B&W touchscreen (which also serves as a programmable thermostat), 3 light sockets, a wall outlet, and a 6 outlet power strip, and a larger Retrofit / New Construction Kit and color touchscreen.  The system gives you a dashboard showing energy consumption of individual fixtures, but can also be programmed to quickly put the entire house into "sleep mode."  The company is in talks with PG&E to get access to smart meters as those are rolled out, so BrightSpark can also show real-time energy usage of the entire house.

6. EcoBatts


Not from the Innovation Pipeline, and only new in the U.S., EcoBatts is an interesting "new" product nonetheless.  As with other fiberglass insulation, it's made ultimately from sand, but Knauf also uses recycled glass.  Its bio-based ECOSE binder also means there's no phenol or formaldehyde.  The result is a batt that costs the same as other traditional fiberglass batts, but is GreenGuard certified for Children & Schools.

Photo credits: Gene Anderson.