Since the industrial revolution, few could now doubt that the human race has had a significant impact on mother earth. This winter was the warmest on record worldwide, the US government reported this week in the latest of a series of worrisome reports focusing on changing climate. This comes just over a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said global warming is very likely caused by human actions and is so severe that it will continue for centuries. Many, though not all, scientists attribute the rising temperatures to so-called carbon-based greenhouse gases which are produced by the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil. No matter which side of the debate you side with, evidence does suggest that unless we can do something to lower the release rate of carbon into the atmosphere, future generations may remember us as ‘environmental criminals’.

Oil as an energy source has proven itself to be both a blessing and a curse. It has fueled much of this industrial expansion we have enjoyed, however it also has resulted in its fair share of geo-political distress for many regions of the world. Oil is a finite resource and the world’s population is extracting it faster than our ability to locate more of it. There are many arguers debating when peak production will be reached, with some predicting that we’ve already reached it. No matter how much oil is left, it is clear that the more that is extracted, the more expensive it becomes, making alternatives more economical. Additionally, the demand side of the equation is increasing as countries like China and India industrialize.

Enter Solar Energy and Silicon Valley

Solar energy is the environmentalist’s nirvana, being one of the cleanest forms of energy creation known to mankind. Enough sunlight falls on the earth each day to potentially electrically power the planet for a year. Yet, solar energy is still a fraction of a percent of the total energy energy produced today globally.

Japan and Germany are now the largest producers and users of solar energy in the world, with about 80% of the global market. Much of this has been as a result of years of very progressive government policies to help the market grow. The United States comes in at a distant third place, with almost all of that in California. Though I’m not a fan of incentives, — unless the government adds solar to the level playing field of incentives given to other energy industries, — the prospects of the US becoming a leader in the solar energy industry is at risk. On the positive side, the private sector has stepped up to the challenge, and nowhere is that more obvious than in Silicon Valley.

A day doesn’t go by when we hear of another new entrant into the solar energy space. Venture capitalists have risen from the depression of the telecom bust and embraced cleantech, in particular solar, as the next growth engine for their investment portfolios. The opportunity to make investments in the trillion dollar energy sector has never been as good. The smart technologists of Silicon Valley are regrouping and finding new missions in solar energy. In such a short period, Silicon Valley has re-invented itself as a hub for development of solar technologies with many start-ups being founded by entrepreneurs with semiconductor and tooling backgrounds competing with each other to bring their solutions to market.

Silicon Valley is embracing a phenomenal opportunity and is rising to the challenge of becoming a leader in solar energy and accelerating the prospects of cheap affordable solar energy for all. Enjoy the ride!