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Cleantech investing poster boy, Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures today presented potential solutions to the man-made global warming he said is pushing the earth’s environment toward cataclysmic disaster.

Speaking at the Cleantech 2007 conference in Santa Clara, Khosla targeted the two primary carbon-emitting culprits — oil and coal — which he said collectively account for 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

He believes biomass and solar thermal offer the greatest potential to signifantly reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.

To replace dependency on oil, we must start with a plentiful energy feedstock, of which biomass is one of his favorites. He said if the U.S. were to devote a land area the size of South Dakota, for example, to producing biomass feedstock such as fast growing Sorghum, the country’s energy production could match that of Saudi Arabia. That may sound somewhat outlandish, but potentially possible.


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Solar thermal technology, meanwhile, can help wean American households off of coal (half of America’s electricity is generated from coal-fired plants). Solar thermal is different from solar photovoltaics, which is what most of us think of when we think of solar. While PV power is useful, it is not dispatchable, meaning you can’t have it any time.

Solar thermal technology is where the sun’s rays are concentrated with mirrors to boil water which creates steam that can power electric turbines at an energy efficiency of 35 percent. During the day, excess steam can be stored underground for later use after the sun sets. “This technology is already starting to be cost competitive against coal plants today,” he stated.

As if Silicon Valley clean tech entrepreneurs and investors didn’t already have enough reasons to feel bullish about the fast growing clean tech industry, a disturbing new scientific study published May 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that the annual growth rate of global C02 emissions measured in 2004 is nearly triple the rates previously measured between 1990 and 1999. 73 percent of global carbon emissions growth is coming from developing countries like China and India.

The new data has scientists and environmentalists scratching their heads as they begin wondering if previous worst-case timeline forecasts for glacier melts and other global warming woes have been underestimated. The report adds new urgency to the fight against global warming and the ensuing harm it will cause with rising sea levels, glacial melting, disrupted food crops and diminished water supplies.

“When I read the data in the Wall Street Journal yesterday on the plane, I felt like crying,” Nicholas Parker, co-founder and chairman of The Cleantech Group, an international network of clean tech business leaders and investors, told VentureBeat after another panel on clean tech investing.

Parker said he has recently observed a growing sense of panic among global political and business leaders, especially in countries such as Singapore that have large coastal regions threatened by rising sea levels.

Asked to project the overall market opportunity available to clean tech ventures, Parker declined. “There’s no way to predict how large the clean tech opportunity will be. This is game changing.” Parker believes every industry will be profoundly transformed by efforts to prevent the impending global environmental crisis.

Therein lies the profit opportunity for Silicon Valley technologists, who are quickly shifting more attention to clean-tech.

Parker says clean-tech ventures are now receiving ten percent of venture flows, up from just one percent a few years ago. “We think clean-tech is the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century.”

In another keynote presentation at last week’s TiECON 2007 conference, Khosla noted that many people, when confronted with the enormity of the pending climate crisis, go from denial to defeatism.

“We must go to action,” Khosla told the audience, urging them to harness the power of capitalism and technology to effect positive social change.

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