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Bush echoes Silicon Valley's Doerr -- "It could be the stalk"

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In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush said we need cut the country dependence on oil. The speech was relatively short on details, but gave us a few pointers about where Silicon Valley's tech machine can help.

Specifically, the President said the nation should reduce dependence on foreign oil by 75 percent over the next two decades (a long time); good stuff, but sort of lets him off the hook from doing anything immediately.

Here are the President's comments on energy, and the technology breakthroughs he says might be able to solve the problem (download's document). There, we've highlighted in bold the specific tech areas he mentions. Note that he wants to change the way we fuel cars, calling for better batteries, and to make ethanol so that is competitively priced within six years. He's got the obligatory reference to hydrogen powered cars (after all, he made a big policy statement about that a few years ago, but note that it's secondary now).

But the six-year reference is significant. Remember, local venture capitalists love that kind of time-frame. He's also calling for all kinds of alternative energy to power our homes and offices -- again things that local Silicon Valley VCs can help with.

Which brings us to the Churchill Club event a couple of weeks ago (Jan. 12) where some prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalists presented what they see as the top-ten tech trends. We couldn't attend (more on that below), but someone we know who did gushed about how Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist John Doerr stole the show with his passionate opening plea --for more investments in clean technologies. "He can sell ice to the eskimos," she said, of his marketing charm.

Doerr read out an excerpt from a column by NYT columnist Thomas Friedman (here is a link to that column) about how energy policy should be the nation's priority, in part because $60-barrel oil gives the world's rogue nations more money to terrorize. Doerr criticized the latest energy bill for not calling for...

vehicle efficiency standards, and he called for more "green" entrepreneurs. He said Kleiner has backed five clean-tech companies, and that they're ready to bring their products to market this year. The Churchill audience approved of Doerr's speech, throwing up a sea of green cards (each member of the audience had green cards to show approval, red cards for disagreement). Business Week's Rob Hof blogged about it, providing some good context.

By the way, another panelist, Joe Schoendorf, expressed skepticism that changes in habits by Americans can really do much, given the huge economic growth in China and the pollution over there -- which makes any visitor want to get right back on the plane and come back.

So when Doerr was asked to talk more about the companies he is supporting -- and to back up his point -- his responding comments are worth cataloging. Here they are (download's document). We've highlighted the details in bold. He disses hydrogen. He's got a company working on the problem of energy storage, which should be interesting. And like the President, Doerr says ethanol could be solved by looking at the corn stalk: "Instead of the top of the corn, it could be the stalk," he said.

By the way, we've written a lot here about Kleiner's investments in some of these areas (just search our blog for "Kleiner"), and here's a good post about the firm's battery investment.

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2006 Clean-Tech Investor Summit -- There is a clean-tech investor summit going on today and tomorrow in Rancho Mirage, CA, which we couldn't get to. If you went and would like to submit a guest entry about it here at SiliconBeat, please get in touch with us.


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Other links (worrying, for the most part):

NASA scientist quashed? -- New York Times has story (sub required). The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

"Uncertainty" about global warming -- This is the worrying part. Some scientists, including President Bush's chief science adviser, John H. Marburger III, emphasize there is still much uncertainty about when abrupt global warming might occur, reports this story by the Washington Post. Ok, fine. But here's his quote: "The U.S. is the world leader in doing something on climate change because of its actions on changing technology," he said. In other words, he's throwing it back on us, here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to help slow global warming. Forget policy efforts, he seems to be saying, we'll do just fine with our geek prowess.

Greenhouse effect may be worse than thought -- A UK govt report says that greenhouse gases may have more serious impacts that previously thought. Greenhouse gases it says, is causing global warming at a rate that is unsustainable.

2005 hottest year, despite lack of El Nino -- The news just keeps coming, doesn't it.

Here's how Silicon Valley will be affected -- How it will change our snow-capped mountains, our redwoods, our oak trees and our beloved beaches ... (free registration)

Ex-Environmental Protection Agency Leaders critical of Bush -- Five of them Republican, accuse Bush administration of neglecting global warming and other environmental problems. Christie Whitman: "You'd need to be in a hole somewhere to think that the amount of change that we have imposed on land, and the way we've handled deforestation, farming practices, development, and what we're putting into the air, isn't exacerbating what is probably a natural trend...But this is worse, and it's getting worse."

Polar bears endangered -- Here's the story about how toxic chemcials -- emanating largely in the United States -- are now are endangering polar bears.

Gas prices may hit record in 2006 -- Here's the story from Merc reporter Gary Richards, in case you haven't had enough.

Some good news...

A new efficient engine? -- Menlo Park's SRI International has come up with a new miniature combustion engine that uses an elastic cylinder to generate power. The independent research institute has been working on portable internal combustion engines for the US Army. Although designed for robots and miniature spy-planes, they could also be used in hybrid cars, lawnmowers and other gadgets, according to a patent recently filed by the company.

California to get more clean-tech money from private investors -- Paladin Private Equity Partners is going to be launching a new cleantech-focused private equity firm, targeting $200M in total commitments, with Calpers providing a $40M lead. The company will target California-based small- and mid-cap investments (Via clean-tech blogger, Rob Day. Rob has other helpful general thoughts about the entire sector here.)

State poised to invest billions in solar power -- How California's Public Utility Commission has a plan to spend $3.2 billion to provide rebates over the next 11 years to homes, businesses and other things to install solar energy systems.

Applied Materials invests in clean-tech -- The Silicon Valley company invested the bulk of a $3 million of venture capital into Oregon-based fuel-cell developer ClearEdge Power, according to VentureWire (sub required). The start-up is using silicon in its fuel-cells rather than the polymers used by traditional fuel-cell manufacturers. It is good to see Applied back in the game.

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Addendum on why couldn't make it to Churchill Club event
-- In short, we were rear-ended by a woman who slammed her car into the back of ours, totaling her car. We got out, with a bad case of whiplash, and helped the stunned woman out of her car. She later told us her cellphone had started ringing, and she'd reached over to pick it up, only to be slammed silly when her car hit ours. Of course, by the time a police officer showed up, she'd conveniently forgotten that part of the story. In aside comments later, the office later told us he hasn't arrived at a crash yet where a cell-phone has been involved -- people, it seems, never want to volunteer the information. So, while we generally agree with the Techdirt folks, we have to disagree with them on this one: It turns out that accidents due to mobile phone use are very low on the list of driver-distraction-based accidents. It even falls below "adjusting the radio. It's low because no one admits it. And we think this idea is pretty useless, too, because people get desensitized by little warning beeps they hear all the time.



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Comments

Yes, John Doerr said green tech is under-hyped. He talked about innovaiton in bio-fuel, clean tech, solar power, etc - see my post Visionaries and Luminaries.

I like Bush's idea of reducing dependence on foreign oil 75% - that's the best thing I heard so far.

Helen Wang on February 1, 2006 12:13 PM
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Er, um. Did John Doerr say, "Green tech promises to be the greatest wealth creation engine in the history of mankind" too?

Skepticz on February 1, 2006 3:04 PM
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Hi guys
Look at this:
"In last year's State of the Union, the President claimed that his "budget provided strong funding for leading-edge technologies - from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources (of energy)." Ironically, just days after his address, the President recommended cutting energy efficiency programs. [1] In June 2005, the President said that "our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American Dream." Later that summer, the White House threatened to veto the Energy Bill if it included a provision to reduce oil consumption by 1 million barrels per day over ten years. [2]
To garner credibility on this issue, the President should start by reversing the actions he's taken to obstruct real reform. He should honor his 2004 State of the Union promise to "modernize our electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy." A start here would correct the fact that Bush's 2005 budget request cut core renewable energy and energy efficiency programs -- including a 16% cut to biomass programs. [3] Then, the President should act on past rhetoric where he acknowledged that "increasing energy efficiency will help reduce our energy consumption, and [make] America less dependent on foreign sources of energy." This would involve correcting the unfortunate reality that since 2002, the President has allowed energy efficiency research and development spending to decline by 15%. [4]"

www.apolloalliance.org

I don't expect nothing good from this Administration, the business by himself and local administrations will lead the efforts toward a sustainable economy. And, as Italian, I hope the Europe Union will go fast on this way.
Matteo


1] Renewable Energy Access, "Proposed Budget Cuts Key Energy Efficiency," Renewable Energy, 8 February 2005.
[2] Congressional Record, Senate, 16 June 2005. S. 6672
[3] The Bush Administration's FY2005 Budget for the Environment: Putting Our Future at Risk. February 24, 2004. http://www.bushgreenwatch.org/special_report/archive/000043.php
[4] Ben Geman. Bush vows 'big time' energy address in State of Union. Green Wire. January 30, 2006.

Matteo on February 1, 2006 3:51 PM
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Skepticz,

good point. guess he's using the more conservative terminology "under-hyped" these days. i know a couple of years ago, after the bubble burst, he was using the word "under-hyped" to describe internet opportunities. he may still be using that term.

Matt Marshall on February 1, 2006 5:27 PM
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The one thing no one discusses is fuel efficiency. Detroit can make cars that are far more efficient using technology that exists and is proven but they will not do it without regulation. Look at the recent car show in detroit- GM introduced a nine passenger hybrid that gets a fabulous 15mpg and then had the marketing people explain that this is great when you consider that it carries nine people- when is the last time you saw a Yukon with more than two people in it? That's the logic that is killing American innovation. The President should have said we will eliminate dependence on foreign oil, no matter what it takes, in the next five years. And then we'll go to the middle east and tell them that if they want to sell us oil they have to clean up their house. Funding for terror will dry up fast...

Martin on February 2, 2006 6:49 AM
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