Setting aggressive renewable energy goals that must be met every two years is a better way to spur innovations than what longer-term goals could accomplish, said Applied Materials CEO Michael Splinter at the Dow Jones Alternative Innovations conference near San Francisco Tuesday.

Right now, federal and many state governments have mandates that give utilities years to secure a certain amount of renewable power. Building solar, wind or other types of renewable power plants can take several years to develop, for one thing. California passed a law in 2006 that requires its investor-owned utilities to have 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. The state Legislature is now considering a new mandate of 33 percent by 2020.

Federal lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering a bill that would set national standards: 6 percent by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025. President Obama has called for 10 percent by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.

Splinter argued that having only long-term goals would allow utilities to dawdle. Instead, lawmakers should also set short-term goals to quicken technology development, much like how Moore’s Law has prompted the chip industry to make more powerful semiconductors every two years.

“We need aggressive, intermediate goals every two years, whether it’s to double the renewable energy standards or improving efficiencies,” Splinter said. “Or else very little will happen in the United States until something really urgent happens.”

He brought the same message to the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Southern California the day before (see Earth2tech post).

Applied, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has been making factory equipment for the semiconductor industry for decades, and entered the solar factory equipment business in 2006. Its customers use the equipment to make solar panels.

The federal government needs to do more to promote domestic manufacturing of solar energy equipment, Splinter also said. He estimated that roughly 50 percent of the solar panels on the global market today are made in China.

He compared buying solar panels from China to buying fossil fuels from other countries.

“We’ve just switched key elements in the supply chain,” he added. “There is precious little [solar] manufacturing in the United States today.”