[pagebreak:Doerr: Greentech Needs More Government R&D] The federal government needs to spend far more on early stage research and development in order to solve global warming, said John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, at the UC Berkeley Energy Symposium on Friday.
"You have the attention of the venture-capital community," he said. "The fundamental thing we need is more R&D dollars. Universities and labs are dying for lack of these."
Doerr said half the students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology want to focus on this research and a third of the faculty wants to pursue it, but the entire federal R&D budget for it is $1 billion.
"I believe we need R&D that is really scalable to the size of this problem," he said, adding that President Bush’s total allocated to greentech research doesn’t equal even a day of ExxonMobile’s revenues. "The total research into geothermal last year was $5 million. It’s almost criminal that we’re not investing more in energy R&D."
After his keynote speech, Doerr told Greentech Media that the lack of fundamental research will have real impacts on the greentech industry.
"We need much, much more R&D than we have today," he said. "People who want to work in the field can’t. And innovations that are needed aren’t available."
In particular, it’s the "science of the small" -- whether it’s understanding the DNA of plants, engineering better energy crops, carbon nanotubes to improve solar cells or materials that lead to better energy-storage technologies -- that is missing in the government-funded part of the innovation pipeline, he said.
Aside from more federal research, Doerr called in his speech for policies that put a price on carbon, as well as a renewal of the investment tax credits set to expire at the end of this year.
He advocated both a market-priced carbon cap and a carbon tax to help change the way people think about emissions, and added that Congress is very close to having the votes needed to pass a cap-and-trade system, which would limit carbon emissions and set up an auction system to allow the trading of carbon credits.
The Lieberman-Warner bill, which proposes such a system, has moved out of a Senate committee for consideration by the full Senate (see New Climate Bill Could Boost Greentech and Global Warming Bill Takes Some Heat). Such a bill would likely need 60 votes to end a filibuster in the Senate.
"We always seem to have 59," Doerr said. "But I believe between a new president [and other changes], we will have a cap and trade."
The Senate also is considering a bill that would extend renewable-energy tax credits for eight years (see Policy Food Fight: Feed-In Tariffs Vs. Tax Credits, Solar Sharpens Weapons for Incentive Battle and Solar Industry’s Five-Step Plan).
Allowing them to expire would essentially raise taxes on renewable energy -- "a brilliant plan," Doerr sniped.
Still, he hasn’t given up hope.
"I do believe that our policies, innovations and American entrepreneurs can make all the difference, so I can’t wait to see what they do -- what you do -- to tackle this problem," he said.
Another part of the problem is mainstream public opinion, he said.
A sign reading "Global warming is a hoax!" on a bulletin board outside the symposium underlined that challenge.
And that’s where Kleiner Perkins’ new partner, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, is helping.
"The most important thing you can do is move mainstream public opinion," he said, adding that Gore is working on a $300 million project to do that.
Gore also participates in Kleiner Perkins meetings, either in person or via phone, every week, Doerr said.
"He’s very involved, very energized by technology," he said. "He introduces innovation, large customers in the markets and energizes everybody by the way he talks."
Important technology solutions to the global warming include more efficient cars that "don’t burn dirty oil," cleaner fuels and technologies that make coal use cleaner, as well as large-scale substitutes for coal, he said.
The world is definitely making progress, he said, pointing to examples such as Wal-Mart’s green initiatives, California’s low-carbon law, Brazil’s "ethanol miracle" and development from thin-film solar company Miasolé (see Light Bulbs’ Time to Shine and Wal-Mart Seeks Green Ideas).
In the last two weeks, Miasolé, which has been in the news because of its layoffs and the departure of its CEO, has gotten its second-generation solar technology working, he said, adding that the technology will cut the cost of solar cells in half.
Still, he said, it’s really hard to change consumer behavior and much more progress is needed. What’s needed is an economic solution that helps make people aware of their impact on the environment, he said: "Going green should be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century."
"If it’s business as usual, the world’s going to go out of business," he said. "There is a time when panic is the appropriate response. We really can’t afford to underestimate this problem. We really could have irreversible and catastrophic climate change. So we’ve got to act quickly."