Black Swans and Greenwashing  

Posted by Big Gav in

Greentech Media has an interesting column on Vinod Khosla and his evolving view of the clean energy technology field - Black Swans and Greenwashing. I'm not sure why Vinod thinks wind power isn't a large scale solution (given its significant and growing scale in Europe) or why he thinks that solar PV will remain small scale (Germany might not be the best place for it, but a large percentage of the globe is), let alone his opposition to energy efficiency and zero emission buildings.

According to this Khosla guy (if you have any background on him, let me know) many of the market sectors that Greentech Media covers are essentially greenwashing and certainly not a solution to our climate issues.

* Photovoltaic panels in the booming $20 billion PV market? Not scalable and not sustainable without subsidies. PV panels on roofs in Germany or San Francisco? No way. Not when Germany has the same solar resources as Alaska. “Rich San Franciscans and Germans putting PV on their roofs only delays the problem and diverts money from where it’s needed,” he says.
* Those wind turbines from GE and Vestas? They’re good but there’s little upside for innovation, the Betz limit is being approached, and the available good sites are declining. And without storage, they don’t provide spinning reserve.
* Those Prius hybrids driven by Bay Area liberal socialists? Not a solution to the climate or energy problem. Better to take that money and paint your roof white to improve the earth’s albedo. And they certainly don’t meet the Chindia test. To meet the Chindia test they have to compete with the $2,500 Tata Nano. “Hybrids are an inefficient carbon solution.”
* Biodiesel? Nope, not a great idea.
* Zero emission buildings? Fashion and fad.
* Clean Coal? “FutureGen” is more like “NeverGen”
* Carbon Capture and Sequestration? VK says, “I do not believe carbon sequestration can work economically.”
* T. Boone Pickens’ plan for LNG and wind? “A dead-end street.”
* New battery technology for EVs? It’s unlikely that Li-ion or Ni mH chemistries will yield significant breakthroughs according to The Vinod.
* Certainly, Energy Efficiency is a good thing? Sorry. According to Vinod “The Buzzkill” Khosla, “Too many people in the environmental movement think that efficiency is the answer. Efficiency is valuable but not sufficient.”

According to Mr. Sunshine, we need “relevant scale” solutions attacking oil, coal, cement and steel. “500 million people on earth enjoy a lifestyle that 9 billion people will want in 2050.”

Second only to the greenwashed concepts mentioned above, Mr. Khosla’s pet peeve is bad forecasting based of extrapolating the past when we should be “inventing the future.”

Khosla is looking for “black swan solutions” that cause “technology shock” and cites a few startups both in and out of his large cleantech portfolio that might provide the technology shock we need.

Kior’s biocrude replaces crude by utilizing thermal cracking — simulating the millions of years that turns trees and dinosaurs into oil. According to Khosla, “They are making amazing progress [and are] producing a barrel of oil a day.”

Transonic makes a “third type of engine” with an injector ignition technology that can create 100 mpg diesel Priuses.

Calera is another potential black swan that can create cement that, “sequesters carbon dioxide rather than emitting it.” Khosla said that, ”We’ll know in the next six months [if it’s for real].”

EEStor is not a Khosla portfolio company (it’s funded by KPCB, et al.) but not by choice. “We didn’t get a chance to invest.” “I can’t tell you if it will work, but if it does it completely changes the economics of hybrids.”

Other black swans to look for are in algenol and in energy storage.

Solar PV, Wind and biofuels are “little markets” according to Mr. Khosla’s audacious presentation and worldview.


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