I learned two things last week about Sunil Paul, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with a passion for clean tech. One is that he thinks big. The other is that he is very well-connected in Washington.
Paul came to D.C. to release a report called the Gigaton Throwdown that, in his words, “redefines what’s possible for clean energy by 2020.” It’s roadmap that demonstrates how we can scale up clean energy to have a major impact in the next decade. Joining him at a news conference to unveil its findings were an all-star group from the Obama administration—green jobs czar Van Jones (checki him out on video, below), White House science advisor John Holdren and assistant secretaries of energy David Sandalow and Cathy Zoi, key players in Steven Chu’s brain trust at DOE.
Paul’s timing was excellent. He released the Gigaton Throwdown the day before the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the most important energy and environmental legislation of our era. While Waxman-Markey is far from perfect, it’s a step towards the ultimate goal: a top-to-bottom transformation of the global economy into one that is sustainable and just. Paul gets this as not many business people do.
Working with scientists, entrepreneurs and investors, Paul put together a team to see what it would take to reach “gigaton scale” for nine technologies—biofuels, building efficiency, concentrated solar power (i.e. solar thermal), construction materials, geothermal, nuclear, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, solar photovoltaics and wind. As the report explains:
To attain gigaton scale, a single technology must reduce annual emissions of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases (CO2e) by at least 1 billion metric tons — a gigaton — by 2020. For an electricity generation technology, this is equivalent to an installed capacity of 205 gigawatts (GW) of carbon-free energy (at 100% capacity) in 2020.
The report found that eight of the nine technologies–the exception was plug-in hybrids–could feasibly reach gigaton scale in a bit more than a decade. Paul’s report is significant, in part, because it reflects the thinking of a many in a hurry–other studies, particularly the very good McKinsey study on how to avoid climate disaster, look out 20 or 40 years.
“For investors, those time frames just don’t make any sense,” Paul told me. “By 2030 or 2050, we’ll either be retired or dead. So we needed something immediate, so we can be held accountable, so we can see the results in a a time frame that matters for investors and entrepreneurs and business leaders—10 years.”
“What we learned is that there are no fundamental barriers to scaling up these technologies to the point where they have massive impact,” he said.
Paul, who is 44, runs Spring Ventures, a cleantech investment firm and led a group called “Cleantech and Green Business for Obama” last year which explains his administration connections. A early employee of AOL, he was the founding CEO of Brightmail, a leading anti-spam software company, which was sold to Symantec for $370 million in 2004.
The report has some academic heavyweights, notably Dan Kammen of Berkeley, behind it, so it is well worth a look. Among other things, it investments required to bring the different technologies to scale. Notice, for example, how building efficiency is a much, much cheaper way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that solar thermal power or nuclear. Here are some highlights:
Here are some highlights:
–Biofuels can achieve gigaton scale for an investment of $383 billion, and enhance energy security by displacing foreign oil imports.
–Building efficiency can achieve gigaton scalefor an investment of $61 billion, creating 681 thousand direct new jobs. It’s the lowest cost pathway of the nine in the report.
–Concentrating solar power (CSP) can achieve gigaton scale for an investment of $2.24 trillion. Because it’s ideally suited to remote desert areas, new transmission lines will be needed to get the electricity to cities.
–Construction materials can achieve gigaton scale for an investment of $445 billion, creating 328 thousand direct new jobs. An example: low-carbon cement.
–Geothermal can achieve gigaton scale but technological advances will be needed. The investment required will be $919 million. (If you missed it, check out this great New York Times story on geothermal, and its risks, and the reactions to it that ran last week.)
–Nuclear power, which already displaces 1 gigaton of CO2 equivalents, can add another gigaton2020 for an investment of $1.27 trillion.
–Plug-in electric vehiles cannot achieve gigaton scale by 2020 because it takes too long to replace the existing global fleet of cars. (Every new car starting in 2010 would have to be a PHEV to meet the gigaton goal by 2020.)
–Solar PV can achieve gigaton scale for an investment of $2.1 trillion, creating more than 1.5 million direct jobs. Enough rooftop space exists in the U.S. alone to achieve gigaton scale.
–Wind is on a pathway to exceed gigaton scale and attract $1.38 trillion in investment. Wind could be cost competitive with fossil-fuel generation without subsidy in the next 10 years.
My quick takeaway from the study: Let’s ramp up energy efficiency in a hurry (no surprise there), keep the momentum behind wind (even though capital costs are high, it’s the lowest-cost form of clean energy, at least for now) and push R&D in solar PV, solar thermal and geothermal to drive costs down. And let’s take nuclear energy seriously as a response to climate change.
Below is a video clip of Van Jones, who spoke at the event (and at Brainstorm Green, Fortune’s conference on business and the environment.) It’s an experiment–I just bought a Flip camera–and a little jiggly. Guess I need to get a tripod.