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Khosla Clip: We Can Replace Oil in 20 Years or Less

The ever-quotable cleantech venture investor Vinod Khosla gave a speech on Wednesday that managed to hit all of his controversial bullet points in the first 10 minutes. Here’s a video clip of the beginning of the speech, with his statements on replacing oil and coal in a 20-year time frame, on photovoltaics and plug-in vehicles being immaterial to climate change, and on hydrogen power being an all-round bad idea. Another juicy line: “Don’t listen to what most environmentalists say, because they come up with ideas that can’t scale.”

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Here’s the bullet points of the video clip:

  • I believe we can replace oil in 20 years or less. And we can do it cheaper than oil. I believe we can do the same with coal-based power.
  • What we need is to focus on scaling and economics. This is a policy problem, not a technology problem.
  • Photovoltaics are great investments but not material to climate change.
  • Forget plug-ins — they are nice toys; they will not be material to climate change.
  • Hydrogen is not even a toy, it is a bad idea.
  • Don’t listen to what most environmentalists say, because they come up with ideas that can’t scale.
  • You can’t tell somebody they can’t watch their NFL game because the wind isn’t blowing.
  • Capital formation from private investors is the key to this business.

4 Responses to “Khosla Clip: We Can Replace Oil in 20 Years or Less”

  1. You still would have to digest cellulose to make it accesable to the anaerobic bacteria.

    Where he is right though is the issue of scalability. There are some many ideas out there, that have real world scale issues. Look at ethanol. We are now only at 5% ethanol of gas and have serious logistics issues (stainless steel pipeline anyone ???). And now syngas/Fischer-Tropsch ???
    That said, a large part of the VCs and PE investors currently in cleantech would qualify probably as “environmentalist”. Funny though is that at the last conference by Goodwin Procter, where he also talked, I did challenge him on the scalability issues of a number of his investments… The guys is good ;)

  2. Basically, I don’t find issue with anything he said, at least as far as this clip goes.

    He is correct in pointing out the intermittent nature of solar and wind make them highly problematic energy solutions. He is also correct that PHEVs do not address climate change (at least not directly).

    I do have an issue with him with respect to “liquid bio-fuels”. One can extract twice the energy content from biomass as methane (a gas) than if one instead extracts ethanol, assuming cellulosic ethanol can be made to work. It is true that gaseous fuels are more problematic to deal with, but with this cost savings, this approach cannot be dismissed out of hand. Anaerobic digestion of biomass (including cellulose) to produce methane is a mature technology.