First it was personal computers — that’s where Moore’s Law, which dictates that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 24 months, made its mark as a tech industry maxim that could turn geeks into millionaires. Then came the next version, with cell phones and mobile devices. Now, with a national renewable portfolio standard in the works, chip and solar equipment maker Applied Materials (s AMAT) CEO Mike Splinter says there’s a sort of Moore’s Law 3.0 that could apply to cleantech — although not without some serious tinkering in Washington.
Speaking on a panel at Monday’s Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, Splinter proposed using a progressive renewable portfolio standard to drive innovation in clean energy as a kind of proxy for Moore’s Law. “If there’s anything we learned from the semiconductor industry,” he said, it’s that the progressive nature of improvement every two years drives innovation, adoption — and most importantly in the quest for grid parity — cost. He called for stepped-up goals every two years in order “to keep up the urgency” of innovation.
In Splinter’s view, state portfolio standards — which have taken the lead since a national standard was cut from the 2007 energy bill — lack teeth, for the most part (although he says “California’s is pretty strong”) and President Barack Obama’s proposal to get 10 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025 does not go far enough. Meanwhile, the climate and energy plan under consideration in Congress would require electricity suppliers to generate only 6 percent of their energy from clean sources by 2012, gradually increasing to 25 percent by 2025. So for now it seems the need for urgency is on Capitol Hill.