Tech Policy Summit: Solving the energy problem

Summary:Floyd Kvamme kicked off the Tech Policy Summit, which is advertised as a non-partisan conference attended by tech industry insiders, investors, policymakers, non-profit leaders, regulators and legal experts to "examine critical policy issues affecting technology innovation and adoption in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Floyd Kvamme kicked off the Tech Policy Summit, which is advertised as a non-partisan conference attended by tech industry insiders, investors, policymakers, non-profit leaders, regulators and legal experts to "examine critical policy issues affecting technology innovation and adoption in Silicon Valley and beyond."

Floyd Kvamme, partner emeritus at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), discussing findings of a recent PCAST report on energy, He cautioned that the U.S. is on the "hairy edge of electricity," and recommended a return to the nuclear world, which he has called "the greenest of the green."

Currently, nuclear accounts for 20 percent of the energy produced in the U.S. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 has a provision for six new nuclear power plants as well for investment in biofuels, such as ethanol. "The elephant in the room is the bomb," Kvamme said. He noted that 56 countries are engaged in nuclear energy research or activity, and that the U.S. should not be shying away from the nuclear energy option.

The elephant isn't just fear of nuclear material getting into the hands of terrorists, but also historical fears among the public about the safety of nuclear plants and the storage of used radioactive material (Do you want a nuclear plant in your back yard? Not now, but within this century you just might.) Nuclear energy is also clearly politically charged and linked into the calculus of how world powers play out their chess game, as we have seen recently with Iran and North Korea. 

Coal and gas account for 70 percent of U.S. energy consumption today. Cleaner coal plants are an option, but the federal government is not in the best position to promote it, Kvamme said, because the state public utility agencies must approve what kind of plants are built. The states are often reluctant to approve cleaner coal plants because the cost of the output to consumers, which is about 15 percent higher. In addition, the various legislative efforts, such as the Clean Air Act, are politically charged, Kvamme said, and not simply subject to common sense interpretation and action.

For environmental reasons, hydro-electric energy is not in favor in the U.S., but renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are getting significant attention, according to the PCAST report. Kvamme noted that 120 tech companies have sprouted up within the last seven years working in the renewable energy space. "There is no way renewables can provide the lion's share of the current load or the increase in demand," Kvamme said. Ten percent of the requirement by 2030 would be good outcome for renewable forms of energy, he added.

Electric and hybrid vehicles, which could go 200 miles on a charge and take only a fraction of an hour to recharge will also have an impact in increasing energy efficiency. Biofuels, which have been around for years, will also put a dent in oil consumption, which is about 140 billion gallons per year in the U.S. Kvamme's venture capital firm is making major investments in the alternative energy sector.

The PCAST report also recommends more research in private and public sectors on energy. Kvamme suggested that private industry research is more likely to produce commercially viable products.  "To be a world leader, the U.S. must solve the issues of energy availability, security, cost and related environment issues. We have to attract the best and brightest to deal with the problems, and have a policy environment that encourages trial and error," he concluded. Providing tax credits for R&D, Kvamme suggested, might be one way to unleash more innovation in areas that are critical to U.S. and global energy policies.

Topics: Emerging Tech

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