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Cleantech is Cool

Posted on Friday, May 18th 2007

The cleantech rhetoric features in every career move these days. Shai Agassi recently quit the run for the CEO job at SAP to pursue greener pastures. Sass Somekh quit as the President of Novellus to focus on alternative energy. And John Doerr seems to have abandoned his previous pet cause, Education, in favor of cleantech.

Vinod Khosla says, “The best brains in the country are no longer working on the next pharmaceutical drug or the next Silicon Revolution. They want to work on energy.”

EE Times reports:

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Venture capitalists in Silicon Valley have been searching for the next big thing in high-tech for years, but now many have switched to greener pursuits — finding technology to help cut global warming.

Although commercial success could take years, venture capitalists are pouring cash into solar power, fuel cells, wind energy, biofuels, new lighting microchips, “smart” power grids, and other innovative energies.

While there is competition from Canada, Germany, China, India and other nations, traditional energy companies have been relatively quiet.

“It is under-researched. There are easy pluckings. Oil companies spend no money on research, especially outside of how you discover more oil. All their efforts are token or nominal. The same is true of the coal business,” Vinod Khosla said.

Cleantech Venture Network, an industry trade group, estimates that clean energy investment in Silicon Valley topped $500 million last year, including not just venture capital but also corporate and some debt financing. The group estimates $3.6 billion was invested across the United States and Europe.

Among the largest clean tech investments were $75 million in solar cell maker NanoSolar of Palo Alto, California, and $50 million for Los Angeles-based renewable biofuels producer Altra Inc.

And even old dogs can learn new tricks. Forty-year-old Applied Materials Inc., the biggest supplier of tools for making microchips, added solar cell manufacturing to its repertoire last year, and is equipping its Sunnyvale research center in Silicon Valley with one of the largest sun-powered energy systems in the United States.

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We have covered cleantech entrepreneur HP Michelet of ERI and Tom Werner, CEO of Solar power thought leader Sunpower recently. ERI is addressing the water desalination problem, while SunPower, ofcourse, is scaling efficient solar energy and its mainstream adoption.

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