Green

Investor Vinod Khosla scoffs at smart grid wannabes

vinod khoslaVenture capitalist Vinod Khosla continued to warn against the hype around smart grid technologies this afternoon, taking aim at two main targets — consumer technology that he argued isn’t really part of the smart grid and environmentalists, who bring wishful thinking to the smart grid debate.

Khosla, who first became famous for co-founding Sun Microsystems, was speaking at VentureBeat’s GreenBeat conference at Stanford University.

He said that a lot of household devices are now calling themselves part of the smart grid (a network that allows households to communicate with utilities in the hope of improving energy distribution). But while a device might help consumers and utilities understand electricity consumption, he argued that they don’t really reduce uncertainty in the grid, which Khosla said is “fundamentally” what the smart grid is about.

“A remote control is a remote control,” Khosla said. “It’s not part of the smart grid.”

Khosla said the hype reminds him of the nanotech craze, when every company tried to claim that its products involved nanotechnology.

He also exhorted attendees to approach the smart grid with economics rather than environmentalism in mind. For one thing, he said, environmentalists are championing devices that only pay for themselves if they’re used for five or 10 years, but realistically, those devices will become superseded before then, so they need to pay off much more quickly. He also singled out “zero net energy buildings” as a “fundamentally bad idea” that’s popular among environmentalists. “Economic gravity always wins,” he said.

As for what Khosla wants to see, he said the smart grid should be designed for evolution, for competition and for open standards, and it should be designed in a way that it can evolve incrementally — it shouldn’t require “forkifts”.

Khosla pushed a similar message at our conference last year, where he argued that, while the smart grid presents real opportunities, the hype surrounding it is leading the industry astray.

[photo by Dean Takahashi]