By Katie Fehrenbacher, GigaOMLast summer, GE and a group of venture capitalists launched a $200 million fund for a “smart grid challenge” that plans to allocate financing to entrepreneurs and startups innovating around the power grid. This morning at CES, GE announced another phase of this 6-month-old challenge: a portion that will focus specifically on the home. GE and the investors are calling for submissions from entrepreneurs building “eco-home” technology, starting on Jan. 18, and running until March 1, 2011. GE and the investors will be investing in some of these companies, will be partnering with others, and will also be allocating small awards ($100,000) to companies that stand out. GE says so far, $55 million of the $200 million fund has been committed, and out of 4,000 ideas already submitted, there have been more than 1,100 in the category of home energy. GE has a keen interest in the home energy market. At CES, GE is showing off its new Home Energy Management business, including its Nucleus home energy device, as well as its Brillion line of smart appliances and smart thermostats. All these are meant to connect within the home to GE’s smart meters, then as a gateway to the smart grid. Home energy — and the smart home in general — has taken center stage at CES. Verizon has been showing off its first smart home energy pilot that it will roll out in New Jersey this month, and will launch commercially in the second half of this year. Verizon will be using technology from 4Home, which telco gear provider Motorola acquired last month. Back in November, GE named 12 winners and five “innovation award winners” from its current challenge submissions. The 12 winners, which split most of the $55 million, included some well-known names like energy billing company OPower, cellular home energy startup Consert, data center efficiency firm SynapSense, tinting window maker Soladigm, commercial building energy company Scientific Conservation, and energy storage company SustainX. There were also some companies I hadn’t heard of before, like solar hot water company ClimateWell, EV charging data management company Columbia Engineering, powerline monitoring company FMC-Tech, green data center company Joule-X, distribution automation software company Sentient Energy, and grid security company Secure RF. The five innovation award winners, which each received $100,000, included: Winflex, maker of fabric windmill rotors; IceCode, which makes technology to pulse heat through metal wind turbine blades to de-ice them; GridON, which makes a power grid fault current limiter; ElectricRoute, maker of a low-latency communications system for grid substations; and Capstone Metering, which uses the water pressure inside water meters to power monitoring and communications hardware. All in all, the list is pretty strong and represents one of the larger smart grid investments out there. Now it’s time to submit home energy ideas folks!