CBS has the script from “The Cleantech Crash” which aired on Jan. 5, 2014. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shachar Bar-On, producer.
Silicon Valley got Washington excited about it. President Bush was an early supporter, but the federal purse strings truly loosened under President Obama. Hoping to create innovation and jobs, he committed north of a $100 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks to Cleantech. But instead of breakthroughs, the sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops. Suddenly Cleantech was a dirty word. The federal government has allocated a total of $150 billion to Cleantech – through loans, grants and tax breaks with little to show for it.
Former Energy Department under secretary, Physicist Steven Koonin, says there was a lot of arrogance. He thought the venture capitalists and Internet geniuses were underestimating the challenges of the energy sector. Managing risks that have to do with market, with supply, with operation, with regulation. And in the end, hoping that you get returns on a 20 or 30-year time scale.
Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but they must’ve known they weren’t going to get a payoff for 20 or 30 years.
Steven Koonin: I don’t think they understood that. The average venture capitalist likes to get in and out in about 3 to 5 years.
While other venture capitalists have withdrawn from the energy sector, Vinod Khosla is staying in, but with a lot of help from taxpayers. Over the years, the federal government has committed north of a hundred million dollars to his various Cleantech ventures and several states have pitched in hundreds of millions as well. But his critics say he’s in over his head.
They talk about the jobs created and that the price of solar power has gone down and there has been a lot of wind power built.
They also note that venture capital typically expects out of ten investments 1 big winner, 2 so-so investments and 7 failures. This is true but some of the investment picks were ill conceived and did not look at the trends in the market and the need to leap frog beyond the lowering of cost that would come from China’s production scaling.
Nextbigfuture – This is not a clear and simple matter.
Yes, solar power prices have gone down but this was mainly driven by the trend of a maturing technology and China making massive high volume production capabilities. How much of the trend and lowering of prices is because of the more recent program of US loans and grants ?
Wind power was already scaling up before the recent program. However, wind power deployment has been dependent upon tax breaks and other subsidies.