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The Mouth Of The South Turner And Kleiner's Lane Go Solar

If media mogul and environmentalist Ted Turner -– who’s often called the largest individual land owner in North America -– placed a few square miles of solar across his New Mexico ranches he could, in theory, generate 4 GW of power.

Well, that was the half-joking suggestion offered by well known venture capitalist Ray Lane (Kleiner Perkins) at the Solar Power 2007 convention Tuesday morning, where both men gave keynote speeches that detailed the massive business opportunities in the clean energy industry overall, and solar in particular.

Lane, whose firm has invested in solar thermal startup Ausra, builder of utility-scale solar thermal power plants, said solar “is probably the single best opportunity for entrepreneurs to invent a way out of this problem [climate change].” He also called energy opportunities “the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century.”

Not to be outdone (his speech followed Lane’s), Turner called the business opportunity of energy the greatest “in the history of humanity.” “The entire world is going to have to redo its energy regime and solar is going to be a very big part of it,” he said.

Like Lane’s firm, Turner has also invested in solar — “a few million,” he says — into Branchburg, N.J.-based DT Solar. Turner suggested that he’s interested in possibly investing in other solar companies, or at least expanding his current solar business, but declined to elaborate on possible investments during a Q&A session after his speech.

There’s been an unending stream of investments into solar startups as of late, and utilities, commercial businesses and residents are increasingly turning to solar as a viable, clean energy alternative. Annual revenues of the global solar equipment industry are predicted to grow from $20 billion last year to $90 billion in 2010.

The most compelling part of the two entrepreneurs’ speeches was their pleas for the industry to move quickly to invest in companies and innovate in clean energy. “We have to move at warp speed to stop using fossil fuels,” said Turner. Lane, channeling Kleiner Perkin’s Eugene Kleiner, said, “Panic, a lot of times, does produce.” And, we might add, earn a lot of returns.