Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (http://www.firstsustainable.com), a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Clean Tech Heavyweights Eye Green Technology

John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, both partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, have made large commitments to the green space. According to a widely syndicated Associated Press Interview over the weekend, Doerr acknowledged committing $100 million or 20 percent of their latest fund, in addition to the $50 million Kleiner has already invested in the space. Khosla, outside of the auspices of Kleiner Perkins, has been a huge investor in ethanol and bio-diesel. Both men feel that clean and sustainable energy could be as big or bigger than the internet and biotechnology.

In my opinion, it will be bigger. However, the revolution will not be as sexy as the other two, and therefore, may go unnoticed by the business media. At least, it will not garner the same kind of headlines of a Netscape (now part of AOL), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), or even E-toys. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

First, the fundamentals. Energy demand for all purposes, including electricity production, transportation fuel, and heating and cooling, has a worldwide market of over $3 Trillion. That is with a "T". In the last several years, thanks to the burgeoning worldwide economy, that figure is growing at 3 percent per year. That is $90 billion. To put that in perspective, the annual growth in the energy sector is bigger than the whole internet economy.

Second, for the vast majority of citizens, governments, and other large consumers, they do not care from where their electrons came, as long as it comes reliably. This means that, at some point in the future, there will be a massive tipping point where the technology, capability, and capacity of clean energy competes with the unclean alternatives. In the words of Ross Perot, you will hear a "giant sucking sound" coming from the companies that have not planned for the sustainable future once the new technologies compete on an even keel with the old ones. The world will convert to the new sources faster than many critics think.

The clean energy future may not be as sexy as the creation of a new medium, or the invention of remarkable healing powers, but the economic effects of a clean energy future will be greater. Growing affluence and urbanization in the two most populous nations, India and China, will make it a necessity.

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