Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader (D-NV), and a group of impressive speakers populated the morning panel at the Clean Energy Summit at UNLV earlier this week, entitled National Clean Energy Summit 3.0: Investing in American Jobs.

As moderator John Podesta said, this was about "trying to unleash the capital that's sitting on the sidelines," adding that the "potential in the sustainable energy market could revive the stalled economy and end the recession."

The morning session was called "Connecting Capital With Ideas" and featured the following greentech leaders:

  • John Podesta, Center for American Progress Action Fund, moderator
  • Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
  • John Berdes, Enterprise Cascadia
  • Terry Copeland, Altairnano
  • Peter Darbee, PG&E
  • John Doerr, Kleiner Perkins
  • Lynn Jurich, SunRun
  • Puon Penn, Wells Fargo
  • Lyndon Rive, Solar City
  • Nat Simons, Elan Management LLC
  • Kevin Smith, SolarReserve
  • Anne Stausboll, CalPERS

The first panelist, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, communicated his main points to me in an email.  He said, "My main role was to paint a big picture and to put the challenge and opportunity in perspective."

The scale of the market:

  • The energy market is $6 trillion, worldwide, with 4 billion users of electricity. It is the mother of all markets.  Compare that to the internet economy, estimated at $1 trillion worldwide with 1.5 billion users.
  • Energy flows through the U.S. amount to $1 trillion per year; renewable energy is at 6 percent.  That's on top of a similar sum we spend each year on that which uses the energy -- our homes, shops, factories, and cars.  That means about $2 trillion per year is at stake right here in the U.S.  Is that money we want to send to hostile powers to import oil?  Are those goods we want to purchase from competitors?  Or, do we want to produce that energy, make those goods, and most importantly, create those jobs here in America?

The U.S. vs. the world

  • 30 percent of U.S. energy comes from overseas.  We ship nearly $1 billion per day to other countries for oil.
  • If you look at the top thirty clean energy companies worldwide, the top ten in wind, solar, and advanced batteries, only four have headquarters in the U.S.  Compared to IT, it's as if Microsoft, Apple, Google and Intel were headquartered in Asia or Europe, and only Amazon was in the U.S.
  • Three years ago China held merely two percent of the solar panel market.  By the fourth quarter of 2009 that share had grown to nearly 50 percent.  During the same period, U.S. market share declined from 43 percent to 16 percent. Do we want to be a world-wide winner in the the race to lead the next great global industry, clean energy?

We need a national energy strategy for this country

  • We have no national energy strategy.  Tom Friedman has charitably described U.S. energy policy as "the sum of all lobbyists."
  • But U.S. companies can win.  How?  By innovation.  But innovation without execution is a hallucination.
  • The best way to predict the future is to invent it.  If you can't do that, at KPCB we say the next best way is to fund it.  Over the last 5 years we've funded >$500 million in clean energy companies, and reserve a similar amount.  Over the next 3 to 4 years we'll fund another 30 to 40 ventures.  So we're doing our part.

Doerr calls for five key policies

  1. Put a price on carbon, to unleash capital investments sitting on the sidelines.  More money flows through private capital markets in a day than through all the governments in the world in a year.  Governments cannot fund the massive transition we need to a low-carbon energy future.
  2. Get serious about funding new energy investments, as we recommend in the American Energy Innovation Council report (the Gates Commission).
    * create an independent national energy strategy board
    * increase R&D from $5B to $16B.  Americans spend more on potato chips than we do on clean energy R&D.  Federal spending on health care is 10 times greater.
    * create centers of excellence
    * fund ARPA-e at $1 billion per year. In ARPA-e's first year of operation, it was able to fund only 37 of the 3,700 proposals it received.
    * establish and fund large-scale pilot projects
  3. Energy efficiency is a great way to reduce carbon emissions while putting hard-hit American construction and manufacturing industries back to work.  A triple win: jobs for American workers, using American products, saving homeowners money on energy bills, contribution to energy independence and carbon reduction
  4. Have consistent tax policies to encourage investments
  5. Get government to provide a level playing field for market competition, and help, not hinder, this growth.  Doerr criticized the OMB for needless delays that have discouraged outstanding ventures from receiving, and even applying for federal guarantees through DOE.


  • Peter Darby, CEO of PG&E, described the importance of decoupling, which Doerr emphasized is a really important policy.  Utilities have 100 percent market share, low cost of capital, and vast cash flows.  We must enlist them as allies in the drive to a low-carbon future, in conservation.  It won't happen as long as we pay them more for selling more electrons.

Jobs and investment

  • Jobs in Nevada: Amonix (CPV), has a 214,000-square-foot facility in North Las Vegas, and plans to employ 278 people.
  • Jobs and investment in California: Doerr reported estimates that there are 500,000 employees in clean, green jobs in California.  Since 1995, 12,000 new California cleantech companies, $9 billion of venture capital invested in cleantech 2005-2009, $2.1 billion in 2009 alone.

And lastly:

I also spoke with Lynn Jurich of SunRun about the event, her firm and U.S energy policy.  Jurich spoke about the need for an energy policy, any consistent long-term energy policy that would allow investors like CalPERs to bring more capital to renewables.  But we'll cover that and get you some more news about SunRun in an upcoming article.