July 18, 2006 12:01 PM PDT
Newsmaker: Cypress CEO: Time to take a different tack on energySee all Newsmakers
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Three years ago, I was asking people in Silicon Valley what they thought about energy investing and only a few seemed interested. Nobody is interested. Has it become overheated?
Rodgers: It is overheated. The hype is extraordinary. It's the worst they've seen in years in Silicon Valley. One of the reasons it's overheated is the economic payback could be astronomical. I mean we talk about Silicon Valley, where the silicon business is about $200 billion a year. The commercial electricity business--that is, the utility business--is $1 trillion a year.
And that's just in the U.S.
Rodgers: Right. Worldwide, it's five times bigger. So the opportunity is awesome, and SunPower was the first solar company from Silicon Valley to go public, and they have a market capital of $2 billion. Sand Hill Road has taken note of that. I heard stories that over $500 million has been invested in energy.
Like your competitor Nanosolar (a CIGS company). It got $100 million to build a factory. That's a lot for a small company.
Rodgers: I read the Nanosolar story, and I thought it was embarrassing. And all I could think of is that they could rename the company NanoDollar, because that's all they are going to be left after we get done kicking their butt. They clearly are way ahead of themselves in the hype.
We will see how well they can build a factory. It took us three years to build a factory, and I have been building manufacturing plants for 20 years. Their technology is?we will see if it demonstrates high efficiency. They say that they are going to take on (Japanese giant) Sharp and build a bigger plant than Sharp. (Nanosolar CEO R. Martin Roscheisen read the comment and declined to comment.)
On a completely different topic, what do you think of Net neutrality?
Rodgers: This is where basically the Net is not allowed to discriminate? I think it's an obscenity. I think people that have paid for the wires and cables should able to charge whatever they want for their product. And for other people to come in and force companies to run their businesses and set their prices is absurd. If some of those companies came into being by virtue of a government monopoly--the old AT&T comes to mind--then fine. But to go and tell companies what they can and cannot charge money for--that's un-American. It's against freedom. It's just bad news.
We're seeing governments around the world--China, Singapore and India--invest heavily in R&D and building tech industries. Has the federal government done enough when it comes to funding fundamental scientific research?
Rodgers: This is the same question I have heard about 500 times. Most government "investments" in technology are total wastes of money. The Chinese government's investments in technology have been a waste of Chinese money, and the concept that we somehow must have our own boondoggles is our own waste of taxpayers' money.
How about DARPA, though? I mean, was that a waste too?
Rodgers: DARPA had some programs that were interesting. But the fact that you can name a program that probably wouldn't have (otherwise) qualified for investment and that wasn't a total waste, doesn't mean we have to do more of that. Where does that come from? The government shouldn't be investing in science; it hasn't got a clue. Science is something that works on the laws of nature, not on the laws of politics. You can't make something happen in Tennessee because the senator in Tennessee wants to invest in it. It is just a stupid way to waste money, and we ought to stop talking about it.
If you go to Stanford University, you can hear every professor complain that they are spending one-third of their time looking for grant money. It takes a lot of their time. Having more government funding...
Rodgers: Well, first of all you might ask, why does a Stanford professor think that they have the right to get taxpayers' money? Where did that come from?
By the way, I am much more sympathetic to government investments in university research than money that goes to corporations. It's not because I see huge amounts coming out of universities, but that research typically is the vehicle by which students are trained. For example, my research at Stanford, although an attempt was made to commercialize a part of it, none of it ever became commercial. It didn't matter. I walked out of Stanford with a Ph.D. I knew how to make transistors, and then I came into the "real world."
If not governments, then who?
Rodgers: Well, my company contributes to the universities. Not on a grand scale, but we have these relationships with several universities, and we support a few students with a bunch of professors. Typically, what we see is a good idea and we get more information on a good idea, and we see the ability to hire that good student. That's more important to us really than what that student does.