Dateline:GoingGreen Conference, Davis, CA
First panel of the day gets right to the point: where are the VC putting their green tech dollars? The panel: Raj Atluru, Draper Fisher Jurvetson partner. Samir Kaul, Khosla Ventures partner. Ray Lane, Kleiner Perkins partner and former Oracle CEO. Bill Green, Vantage Point Venture Partners partner. Bill Green, felicitous name, no?
RA: energy efficiency...utility scale projects, solar thermal, coal gassification
SK: bioplastics, esp. for bottled water...green cement and better glass--building materials
RL: solar, biofuels, storage...we're hungry for demand-side types of investments, something that will be able to measure and reduce carbon measurements
BG: transport, dramatic changes possible in near future
Can any of the renewable sources really compete with fossil fuels?
RL: we do have investments that can compete with fossil fuels, esp. with clean coal...solar thermal tech can compete against gas or coal-burning electricity generation...we're also involved in coal gassification, including one venture involving three of the companies on the panel
RA: Price of fossil fuel depends on the marketplace, Japan and India have little fossil fuels unlike US...we need companies that can become commercial scale in seven years
SK: new companies will be working on driving down prices, improving process and becoming competitive...if you want to compete in India and China in 5-7 years, it's harder than competing in US or Europe where energy prices are high
RL: Traditional tech firms are quicker to build: software or chips are easier to get into production...25 green tech companies in our portfolio, just scratches the surface when you consider global warming...need to be in commercial mode in 4-6 years for us...in most cases plants need to be built and financed
BG: a lot of the tech is already market priced...there are many techs already existing...black liquor
from paper-making turned into vehicle fuel commercially viable in Sweden right now
Anyone looking at nuclear? Seeking a home run?
RL: Sure we're looking for home run...we expect it to take multiple technologies over long term.
Europe is far ahead of U.S. in nurturing renewables. Nuclear power has a negative learning curve...the more we know, the more costly it becomes. Using solar energy we can generate enough electricity in the southwest US for the entire country, but we would need transmission and likely that means govt. intervention
RA: no one silver bullet
RL: we can use all the corn ethanol we can grow, but the best answer for transportaton is electrons...but we'll continue to depend on fossil fuels...Washington D.C. doesn't understand: we cannot use food crops to generate ethanol.
BG: We've been silicon-constrained for developing solar energy...important to distinguish between solar/thermal and distributed solar that goes onto your rooftop.
RL: If we see some aspects of an investment bubble here, that doesn't matter...we need to find big energy sources to replace big energy sources...the biggest sources are the sun, and the earth's crust
RA: we expect solar costs to come down considerably...yes, many companies will not succeed. Solar's a must-invest space in green tech.
RL: We [in the U.S.] need a carbon tax, and I'm a Republican...cap and trade is too complex and too easily gamed
BG: America is essentially brain-dead around the carbon issue...we will eventually catch up with Europe and other places...huge need to have consumer awareness around this issue...big companies are now having carbon discussions
SK:our VC job is to get these new techs to scale, then the major investment done by large corps...large corps do very little good basic research, that's where young companies do great work and they need VC support.