November 15, 2006 8:50 PM PST

Doerr, McNealy offer tech solutions to global warming

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PALO ALTO, Calif.--If scientific predictions are correct, Silicon Valley could be underwater within a half a century. Green tech may be the life raft.

That was the caution and promise offered at an executive panel Wednesday here at the TechNet Innovation Summit hosted by Stanford University. Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy, Bloom Energy Chief Executive K.R. Sridhar and tech investment guru John Doerr spoke about the dangers of global warming and potential remedies to the problem.

For Doerr, much can be solved if the U.S. government takes the lead. "Our country needs a new energy policy," he said.

Ready with advice, Doerr outlined a four-point policy that he believes President Bush should adopt, come January. That policy includes a mandatory goal for all organizations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2010; the adoption of renewable sources of energy like solar and wind; a lesser dependence on oil by invigorating the biofuel industry; and investing in technology that can remove existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

McNealy's solution to the energy consumption problem was entirely more personal. Half of Sun's employees work from home, which helps reduce the energy generated by driving, McNealy said. And technology further helps encourage people to drive less (and therefore pollute less) through activities such as online shopping, remote banking and distance learning, he said.

"There are lots of individual things we can do," McNealy said. "I only shave once a week."

Both McNealy and Doerr, who's known for investments in Google, Amazon.com and Sun, referred to themselves as "raging capitalists" during the panel, as a way to highlight the view that being green can save costs and ultimately prove profitable.

"This is the biggest economic opportunity of this century," Doerr said.

Take Bloom Energy, which is developing fuel cell technology in the energy market that's worth more than a trillion dollars.

Sridhar said his venture aims to distribute energy production much like distributed computing, putting it in the individual's hands in order to boost efficiency of the whole network. For example, a house fuel cell working with a solar panel could produce enough energy to refuel your car, Sridhar said.

"It will come down to the way we distribute (energy) and consume," Sridhar said.

Doerr, whose venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers last year created a $100 million fund dedicated to green technologies, said that although public policy is key, he believes that small companies and entrepreneurs will lead innovation in this arena. Oil companies, he said, spend roughly 1 percent of their revenue on research and development.

"(The author) Margaret Mead said, 'Never underestimate the power of a small group to change the world,'" Doerr said. "I believe that's what will happen with green technology."

See more CNET content tagged:
Scott McNealy, fuel cell, global warming, energy, Sun Microsystems Inc.

9 comments

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Nuclear power
You can make hybrid cars, throw trillions into bio-fuel research, spend $50,000 to put your home on solar power, even convince everyone to shave once a week and it in the end all we are doing is slowing the trend because the grid is still using fossil fuels and getting all people on board with your goals is an impossible dream.

I promise you that if the US ever does become "green" it will not happen until the grid is entirely off the fossil fuel dependency.

I am not saying we need to mandate that all plants go nuclear today, I am only saying that there have been some significant improvements in Nuclear power plant design (PBMR) and I think people are overlooking the most obvious partial solution to the problem.

You could spend billions of R&D on vaporware bio-fuels for cars or you could take the recent advancements in Nuclear power technology and perfect them.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nukes are good
But if we use only the type that simply consume existing fissile
materials, we will be going down another path with limited fuel
supplies. Would that be worth the investment and the waste
storage costs? If not, we must continue development of nuclear
fuel systems that convert the "unusable" isotopes into fissile
materials usable in reactors. That will turn a fuel source with
decades of supply into a fuel source that lasts 100 times longer.
When that supply inevitably ends, however, we will still be faced
with having to learn to use the lower energy density systems-
wind, solar, maybe biomass if the population were an order of
magnitude smaller, and whatever else may turn up.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
what global warming?
what happened to all the bad hurricanes of this year they predicted
Posted by newcreation (118 comments )
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what global warming?
where is the killer hurricanes of 06
Posted by newcreation (118 comments )
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Market Forces and Technology will save the Planet
The ongoing upward trend in "fossil fuel" prices helps to spur numerous alternative energy startups. At the right price alternative energy, along with more entrenched fossil fuel extraction become economically viable. Use of nanotechnology in batteries and capacitors are coming to market or are in the pipeline and will make viable quick charging hybrids or all electric vehicles. When current modified Prius' get milage from electric equivalent to under $1 gallon that is a market force that will not long go un-noticed. In fact, Toyota a leader in hybrid car manufacturing has recently warmed to the idea of Plug in Hybrid vehicles. When alternative technologies become economically viable in the market place they will take root, slowly but surely. Governments role? Tax those things that make us energy dependant and create tax incentive for those things that lead us to an energy infrastructure that is diversified and sustainable. There is so much money in providing energy that the chances of companies not figuring out a way to sell us the power we need for our homes, vehicles, and business is really just something that isn't going to happen.

Yes at our current rate of use all fossil fuels will eventually be fully exploited and run out, even Nuclear. However if prices continue to rise higher as they have improvements in technology will make alternatives economically viable. If all goes well alternatives will replace fossil fuels over the next 200 years and fossil fuels will become a few pages in the history books.
Posted by stlwest (72 comments )
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If all goes well...
Markets do, indeed, work seeming miracles. However, an energy
source must be energetically feasible as well as economically
feasible. We've been spoiled by a hundred years of easy living
courtesy of fossil fuels, in the sense that they return so much
energy for that expended in obtaining them. That's the main
reason why alternatives are not much used yet- you get so much
less back for the energy put into making them available. At the
moment, we see that situation in financial terms. If we had to
depend on alternatives now, we might find that they also look
expensive in energy terms- there would be a lot less energy to
go around. I think the solution will depend as much on our
learning to live well on much less energy as on developing the
alternative sources.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
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