Silicon Valley asks gov't for green research

February 20, 2009 7:20:05 PM PST
Just days after the president committed billions to green technology in the stimulus bill, a leading venture capitalist says even more critical research support is needed.

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Early biotech research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Money from the Department of Defense helped to create the Internet.

Now comes the suggestion that Washington should underwrite clean tech research.

"What we need is more research funding. That's not something that the venture capital industry is well suited to do. That is something the federal government does," said Venture Capitalist John Denniston.

Help from Washington was a recurring theme at this conference looking at the valley's future, sponsored by joint venture and the Silicon Valley community foundation.

Better place is a Palo Alto start-up that's creating charging stations in the bay area and overseas for electric cars.

"We need Detroit to understand that instead of asking for money for Car 1.0, the last generation of cars, we need to ask for Car 2.0. So we need to put the investments in place similar to what the French government is doing, similar to what the Chinese government is doing right now," said Better Place Founder and CEO Shai Agassi.

Silicon Valley boosters say the innovators and tech experts are all here. However, the U.S. may have some catching up to do.

Felix Kramer, founder of an electric car group, cites Germany as an example.

"In solar, they have a feed-in tariff, which means that you can get paid by your utility a lot of money for a rooftop photovoltaic system, and we don't have that here. You can just zero the meter back, but you can't run your meter backwards and get paid for it," said Kramer.

Other hurdles could be a rising dropout rate and inadequate job training programs.

There is a strong desire to transform Silicon Valley into Green Valley, but there also seems to be a consensus now that it will take time, and it will take a strong commitment by Washington, both in terms of money as well as policy change.

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