This week, I had the opportunity to hear Vinod Khosla speak as part of the yearly Management of Technology Lecture series. For budding technologists and entrepreneurs, meeting Vinod Khosla is pretty much the teenage girl equivalent of meeting Justin Timberlake. Mr. Khosla is the former founder of Sun Microsystems, former general partner of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield Byers, and founder of venture capital fund Khosla Ventures.
For the past two plus decades, Mr. Khosla has helped to shape the direction of numerous startups including Google and Genentech. But in recent years, he has turned his eye to greener pastures. Back in 2004, long before Al Gore shared his inconvenient truth to Academy voters, Khosla started to make bets on clean energy technology. He invested in industries that had either fallen out of favor (solar energy) or that were still relatively new (cellulosic ethanol fuel). Yet now in 2007, with the whole world clamoring for a solution to the impending climate change crisis on the Earth, Mr. Khosla's bets look downright prescient and he is once again at the forefront of these emerging technologies.
Over the one hour talk, Mr. Khosla gave us a brief overview of different ideas that his venture companies have come up with to solve this energy crisis. Yet far from being simply an idealistic environmentalist, Mr. Khosla grounded his entire talk in the economics of “being green.” He stated that such technologies must scale and be cost competitive with existing energy sources such as coal, or else developing economies would not likely adopt them. Maybe 20 years ago, when solar cars sputtered out and died on cloudy days, such ideas around clean technology seemed like the stuff of Star Wars. But after hearing about the advances in these technologies as Mr. Khosla described to us, I can’t help but feel like the solution to the climate change crisis is much closer than we think. And when that time comes, I have a feeling that Mr. Khosla will have had a hand in the solution.