CES 2011: Looking for Green Tech

Wheels down in Vegas and there is a lot going on at the 2011 Consumers Electronics Show. While a lot of the news you will hear about over the next few days will focus on the next "iPad Killer" device or what's around the corner for television, one of the often-overlooked growth areas in consumer electronics is Green Tech.

There is a whole lot of CES that has nothing to do with conserving energy or greening the planet. In fact Greenpeace shows up every year to give out a report card to different manufacturers scoring their efforts to green their manufacturing, packaging and more. (Latest from Greenpeace.)

And, to be blunt, CES is a giant Las Vegas-style festival of over-packaged and over-consumed tech and gadgets packed into a large convention center. I still love it, a guilty pleasure -- like chocolate cake or something. (They also are making an effort to green things up.)

But putting aside the ungreen side for a minute, this year's CES is serving up a whole range of products and conversations on how to reduce energy consumption or produce your own energy and of course how the business of Green Tech is evolving.

Here is what I have my eyes open for as I hit CES 2011.

Smart Home Energy Management

I want to be able to open my phone and program my thermostat whether I'm at the office or up two staircases away from my thermostat in the middle of the night. So far my ad hoc research of this topic hasn't been satisfactory. It seems basic to me--a WiFi router costs about $50 and a thermostat costs about $50 so why can't I find a sub-$100 WiFi-enabled thermostat connected to a website and an app store? Most of what I've seen in this area costs hundreds of dollars so I will be looking around to see what I can find in the sub $100 range.

Electric Cars

I admit that I have no plans to buy a new car. Our new hybrid suits me just fine. But Ford CEO Alan Mulally will give a keynote address and the Ford Focus 2012 electric car is reportedly on display so I'm on the lookout for what is upcoming with electric cars. CES has also kindly put together a whole session on this topic titled, "Computer on Wheels: Meet the Electric Car."

Smart Grid

Thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars of economic recovery money from the Obama administration, utility companies across the country are upgrading to new smart meters that will enable a whole range of energy-conserving applications. I'm on the lookout for how electronics companies are thinking about the smart grid including everything from new meters to devices that give control of that data to homeowners.

I have a personal stake here with 5KW of solar panels on my home's roof so I'm looking specifically for a meter that can measure consumption, production, storage and time-of-day. That might sound like a small thing but it is the holy grail of smart grid technology in some ways and it isn't currently approved for use as I understand it. But aside from meters, the CES has a whole half-day of sessions with industry players discussing Smart Grid Homes. This is a huge and growing part of the Green Tech economy and I'm glad to see it on the CES agenda.

Batteries That Really Work

At last year's CES I found my biggest pet peeve was that I couldn't find anybody who gave a hoot about the crappy battery life on all the devices we all use. It is such a problem that a whole industry of companies selling "battery cases" has popped up. PowerMat and Mophie being the most obvious. I will be on the floor looking for what is new in this area.

Solar Gadgets

I'm interested to see who is putting solar cells into their devices. Has anybody put together a phone with built-in solar? Has anybody put together a battery case with built-in solar? For this I will probably have to spend a lot of time on the show floor asking around.

Home Energy Storage

So you're asking, who the heck would want home energy storage? In a few years I suspect most of us will want at least a little bit of home energy storage. In 2007 oil prices hit record highs as the economy was still booming. Only the global recession has slowed down our planet's galloping consumption of energy. But as the economy limps back there is no reason to think that energy prices won't rise in the future on their own and absent major conservation improvements. Home Energy Storage can help a smart grid, help consumers who consume during peak times of the day and are price sensitive. So I am on the lookout for what might be on the floor in this area and what experts have to say.

These are just some of the trends I'm looking for at CES 2011. If there is something you want me to track down or look up drop it in the comments or tweet me @tommatzzie. And don't worry, I will have plenty of photos of gadgets too.