EchoFirst optimizes your solar home system by using your standard PV panels to generate both electrical ... and thermal energy.  The Fremont, CA-based company has developed a solar efficiency system that not only produces electricity, but also provides hot water and contributes to heating and cooling of your home, generating over twice as much energy as a basic solar PV system.

A typical PV system has a 15% efficiency rate of converting the sun's energy into usable electricity.  The remaining energy is left untapped, mostly in the form of heat.  Echo's system however, harnesses 50% of the sun's energy by capturing this lost "heat" and then transferring the heat to a Energy Transfer Module (ETM).

The ETM, typically installed in an attic or a garage, provides a complementary system to already existing HVAC* and water heating systems.  Basically, if the sun is not shining, your hot water will be heated like before.  If the sun is shining, not only will the lights in your house be solar-powered by your Echo system, but you can take a nice, hot shower and smile, knowing that the heat is coming from ... our favorite star.

* HVAC: Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning

Another cool thing about EchoFirst's technology is that it comes with a super simple web-based User Interface allowing you to monitor and control your system:

Better yet, you can download the free iPhone app and control your system remotely!  For example, you leave your office after a long day of work and it's unexpectedly really cold outside.  You decide to turn the heat on at your house remotely with your iPhone app so that when you arrive 30 minutes later, your house is waiting for you, nice and toasty.  Awesome.  convenient.  And efficient.

To summarize, EchoFirst has integrated solar power and energy efficiency to create a really exciting optimized solar home system.  And moreover, the design is a reality in many homes around California and Arizona.

I discovered EchoFirst via Khosla Ventures, one of EchoFirst's investors.  Check out this quick and interesting GTM article about Vinod Khosla, the head of Khosla Ventures (and apparently quite a character) - Mr. Khosla has got that provocative-but-sometimes-so-true perspective on innovation:

"Only small companies do impressive things ... the only new thing that comes out of big companies is new packaging for toothpaste"