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Green Venture Capital

Can "green tech" have a dark cloud?

KPCB-logo.gif This New York Time Magazine article on green venture capital makes me simultaneously hopeful and nervous.

Kleiner Perkins is one of the giants of venture capital, having scored with some far-sighted early bets on high-tech firms such as Google.  Now, the firm is setting its sights on "green tech" -- technologies that can save energy, produce renewable power, or reduce pollution and emissions. 

Having such deep pockets turning their attention to clean energy seems like a very good thing.  And to my eyes, Kleiner seems to have gotten one important point right:  much of the technology we need to transform the energy system is already out there.   Says Kleiner elder statesman Bill Joy:

"Our overarching thesis...was that a lot of stuff had already been developed, but there were things that were not yet commercialized because thy had been frozen by the low price of oil.  The innovation had occurred, but they hadn't been deployed."

This is a point that greenies have been making for decades:  cleaner tech is already on the shelf, but structural impediments (including the subsidies we lavish on fossil fuels) have prevented them from taking off.  And it's wonderful to see that idea going mainstream.

Still, I do get a bit nervous about some of the energy technologies that the article touts as "green."

Take, for instance, the "Bloom Box," a squat, refrigerator-sized fuel cell that can turn natural gas or other fuels into electricity with remarkable efficiency.  Kleiner has made a big bet on Bloom, but there's a flipside:

The company's ambitions are indeed breathtaking in scope...."Two billion people have no access to electricity.  And of the four billion people with access, probably two billion are actually getting below their demands."  That makes a lot of potential users of his product.

Obviously, the Bloom Box could do good things for global economic equity, by giving more people access to reliable electricity. But more than anything else, the Bloom Box is a technology that makes fossil fuels more useful.  Spreading natural gas-powered Bloom Boxes across the less-developed world will likely make global climate and energy problems worse, not better -- it will make even more of the world's population dependent on an unstable resource with frightening impacts on the climate.

I'm not arguing that the Bloom box is a bad idea:  I'm sure it's got some great potential.  Still, I think it's worth being cautious about what technologies people tout as "green." Sometimes, even a super-efficient technology might not do much good for the planet.

This piece originally appeared on The Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score.

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Comments

Maybe I'm just not getting it, but I don't see what makes the Bloom Box green at all. Being able to more efficiently process fossil fuels is going to lead to greater dependence on fossil fuels, and isn't that the opposite of green? Anything that makes the use of fossil fuels more efficient is going to give alternative energy (wind power, solar power, etc.) an extra hurdle to leap before it becomes accepted.


Posted by: Matt D. on 3 Dec 08

I would respectfully disagree with New York Times and KPCB Venture Capital. There are no good or effective green energy technologies out there. However, there is a very good one now. My Company, the New Electric Vehicle Company (zamron@aol.com) has produced the World's highest performing and environmentally best, innovative, New Electric Vehicle. It has scope and power to replace majority of gasoline vehicles, stop main source of greenhouse gasses, significantly reduce global warming. We are ready to start mass-production. Contact me for more info or to invest in the breakthrough New Electric Vehicle.


Posted by: John Friedman CEO on 16 Aug 09

A root problem we assert in today’s ecological crisis is, in part, due to the inefficient use of land by humans. A study, which began in Japan over 30 years ago considered Open Space Frames to develop structured land; today, the TSL (Terraced Structured Land) reduces human land occupancy by as much as 70% and affords new harmony with nature while meeting the growth of Urbanization whether it be disaster relief, or renovation. Its Integration know-how provides installation of Modular Systems, Wind Powered Generators, and Solar Panels to name a few; and its technology realizes not a lot-by-lot linkage but a universal connection. The TSL can be viewed on our website www.unsprawl.net. It houses occupancy in Light Industrial, Residential (hillside views), and Agriculture and Agricultural Infrastructure. Its development can also make available Merchant Rows, etc.

The proprietary joint technology makes significant engineering advancements all the while the TSL’s assembly utilizes smaller members and logistically is transportable without Modern Day roads (in cases of disaster response). New efforts in returning balance to nature can be afforded by way of the TSL Urban Plan as we lessen the human occupancy areas; such availabilities can contribute to Environmental Sustainability among other goals. Attacking the root problems which results in Green concerns and Global Warming, etc. can significantly contribute toward viable and harmonious living within our planet; we feel that humans inefficient use of land is a root problem we can meet and resolve.

Thank you.
Hirotomo Nii


Posted by: Hirotomo Nii on 18 Mar 10

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