- Radical innovation, not incremental improvement, is needed to make clean, efficient energy technologies that can compete, unsubsidized, in big markets.
- Mainstream technologies such as air conditioning and automobile engines may be the best targets for breakthroughs that change the energy game.
- More people with Ph.D.s in technical disciplines are needed to create true breakthroughs. Students are beginning to flock to these areas.
- A low-carbon-electricity standard, not renewable energy standards or cap and trade, would most encourage cleaner technologies, including fossil fuels.
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Vinod khosla has become the most widely recognized investor in clean technologies—those that generate or save energy with the least environmental impact. He founded Khosla Ventures in 2004 to fund new companies, after being a long-time partner at the giant investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. His entrepreneurial roots stretch back to 1982, when he co-founded Sun Microsystems, which became a $7-billion workstation and software company. In a one-on-one dialogue, conducted before an audience of energy entrepreneurs and financiers at the recent GoingGreen conference in San Francisco, Scientific American’s Mark Fischetti asked Khosla (an adviser to the magazine) to assess, with his venture capitalist’s eye, which new energy innovations are most likely to succeed and why. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.
Scientific American: One of your mantras as an investor is: If it doesn’t scale, it doesn’t matter. How are clean technologies doing in this regard?
This article was originally published with the title In Search of the Radical Solution.