September 24, 2008

Extrapolate the past or Invent the future

The Emerging Technology Conference at MIT started yesterday ...

Technology Review's EmTech Conference brings together world-renowned innovators and senior business leaders to discuss the emerging technologies that are poised to make a dramatic impact on our world. Keynote sessions, insightful panels, and groundbreaking presentations--of a caliber only Technology Review can deliver--are combined with networking opportunities and live demonstrations.

And this morning, even as I sit here and read about all the wonderful work going on around the world in cleantech and renewable energy, a few miles from here, these wonderful talks:

Keynote: Vinod Khosla (8:25 am - 9:10 am)

“Extrapolate the past ... or invent the future. A renewable-energy perspective: financing, forecasting, modeling, and trajectory.” A look at renewable energy—where we are now and where we need to be. The focus is on "Chindia" solutions—how to identify them, the issues with forecasting them, the importance of cost and scaling trajectory, and the policy prescriptions that can help drive them.

Green Transportation (9:10 am - 10:10 am)

Leaders from companies that are transforming transportation discuss how emerging technologies will enable more environmentally friendly planes, trains, and automobiles.
Confirmed Panelists: Steven E. Koonin, Chief Scientist, BP; JB Straubel, Chief Technical Officer, Tesla Motors; Ryan Chin, PhD Candidate, MIT Media Lab

Sigh... I couldn't be there for the talks but luckily you (and I) can all watch these two talks for free at the links above. (Thanks, TechReview for the freebies!)

Khosla, of course, is hugely invested in renewable energy (particularly biofuels, see my earlier post about it).

With regards to solar energy (which is an industry I currently know more about than other cleantech/renewable energy industries), he is not such a big fan, though he has been reported to be pro-solar thermal but not gungho about photovoltaics & solar roofing so much.

Why? Because ..
"I invest in technologies that achieve unsubsidized market competitiveness with five to seven years after introduction to the marketplace. I don't think photovoltaic has reached that point yet but I do think that solar thermal electricity will meet this criteria."
And like he said this week...
"If it doesn't scale, it doesn't matter. Most of what we talk about today--hybrid, biodiesel, ethanol, solar photovoltaics, geothermal--I believe are irrelevant to the scale of the problem" of climate change," says Khosla.
Though I am still a proponent for rooftop solar, which is how I came to be interested seriously (more than just a feel-good renewable-is-good sort of interest) in renewable energies, I am all ears to everything that Khosla has to say because as an entrepreneur, he brings a very practical and realistic view of things.

With regard to solar, I should add that his belief is that
large, centralized solar power plants are feasible and we can get "up to 90 percent of the power we need from centralized renewables, which are “getting very competitive” with natural gas and other forms of fossil energy."

You can hear a speech he gave on solar energy at the annual Solar Power conference in 2006.

Ignore the rather irritating and pointless first 2.5 minutes of introduction and move on to hear what Khosla had to say.

Update: Since I wrote about one VC's opinions on solar, perhaps it is important to point out this timely post from the NYT Technology blog yesterday about VC investments this year:
Still, 39 percent of venture capitalists said that solar would become the dominant clean-energy source over the next 20 years, while 27 percent predicted it would be nuclear and 18 percent predicted it would be wind.
Per the article, thin-film solar companies alone have raised more than $800 million this summer! Also linked in the article is the TED Talk: Salvation and profit in greentech by John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, "one of the top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley" which recently announced that "it had raised a $500 million Green Growth Fund and is also investing part of its eighth, $700 million fund in clean technology."

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