Bill Joy: Time for panic–and green investing

The legendary Internet technologist Bill Joy has found a better place than the Internet to put his venture capital dollars: green technology.

joy1_270—385.JPGJoy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, joined the famed venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers in 2005 (more proof, if needed, that the rich get richer). In a recent talk, Joy said:

“Eugene Kleiner, the co-founder of Kleiner Perkins, said there is a time when panic is the appropriate response. And I think we should go into a panic–not only (because) the scale of the problem but also the economic opportunity that becoming more efficient in our use of energy gives to us.”

What does this technology guru — and sometimes techno-dystopian — think is hot in clean tech?

Although biofuels–fuels like ethanol made from plants–are garnering the bulk of investment dollars, Joy thinks that “electric vehicles will beat biofuels”….

The key stumbling block to plug-in hybrid cars are electric vehicles is batteries. But Joy is again optimistic there.

“There’s a range of new chemistries coming so that you can imagine, say five to ten years from now, instead of 100 watt-hours per liter we’re at today, that a break-out company will have a 500 or thousand watt-hours–a five to 10 times (increase in) the energy density,” he said.

“It’d be perfectly practical to have a car that you plug into your garage and you never have to go to a gas station,” he said.

Can’t argue with a fan of plug-in hybrids. What about solar?

In solar energy, his long-term bet is on photovoltaics–materials to convert light into electricity….

Although the efficiency of panels is improving, companies are pursuing solar technologies, such as solar thermal and solar concentrators, which can be more cost-effective.

Kleiner Perkins, in fact, has invested in both solar thermal and photovoltaics. But Joy sees photovoltaics winning out in the end….

“It’s much easier in the long run to get higher efficiency from photovoltaics. The cost is prohibitive today because we’re making high-efficiency photovoltaics out of high-purity crystalline silicon which is very expensive to make,” he said. “That’s not inherent in physics. Physics will win ultimately, I think.”

I hate to disagree with Joy, but if I were to place one bet on solar, I’d take concentrated solar thermal electricity over photovoltaics. It can be much cheaper and can potentially provide baseload or near-baseload power. I am not dissing PV, but cost ultimately reigns supreme. PV, fully installed, is pricey and likely to remain so for a while.

Still, glad Joy has joined the green side.

11 Responses to Bill Joy: Time for panic–and green investing

  1. Paul K says:

    I think even libertarian Ron would like what Joy is doing. Here’s a good link about wind.

  2. Ron says:

    I do like Joy’s approach – it doesn’t rely on robbing (taxing) people; the way a market is supposed to work.

    And I agree with Joe on the solar/thermal technology – but again, do it in the private sector, not public.

    Joy’s approach might make him richer. The taxation approach makes people poorer.

  3. Ron says:

    Here’s a news story you may want to comment on –

    It seems the Carteret Islands of New Guinea are being overwhelmed by rising seas! The residents of the islands have become the World’s first official climate refugees!

    —–Their tide-measuring station on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, 1,100 km west of the atolls, has measured an annual 8.2 mm rise in sea-levels over the past seven years.

    The Solomon Islands station, 750 km to the south, has recorded an annual 6.2 mm rise over the past eight years. Nauru, 1200 km northeast, has recorded 5.6 mm per year over nine years. —–

    Or could it be the islands are sinking? That might explain why the sea is rising faster there than anywhere else …

    Might it have something to do with the islanders dynamiting the reefs to catch fish?

    Might their ‘official’ designation as climate refugees have more to do with politics, just a way to obtain help, than with science?

    This can’t be just more propaganda can it? Another example of using disasters to further political ends?


  4. Ron says:

    Even Ivan won’t touch this one? Come on, call me a DDDenier or something.

    I couldn’t resist pointing out this blatent propaganda that many people are too-easily falling for.

  5. IANVS says:


    Since it’s not related to the topic at hand, I won’t resist in telling you to put your comment where it belongs.

  6. Joe says:

    I guess I don’t understand how taxation makes people poorer given that we are the richest country in the world, and have been for many decades.

    In any case, the so-called free market can’t solve the climate problem since carbon has no price.

  7. Earl Killian says:

    I am not sure why the discussion on this item is turning to taxes, but even Ron and Joe might agree that if there are going to be taxes, they would be better levied on pollution than on income. That is the hypothesis of the 1997 monograph Tax Waste, Not Work from Redefining Progress ( It proposes a revenue-neutral shift from income taxes to pollution taxes (greenhouse gas taxes would be an excellent instance).

    The summary says, “Tax Waste, Not Work offers a blueprint for a tax system that reflects America’s values and common sense. The report argues neither for higher taxes overall, nor a change in the distribution of the tax burden up or down the income scale. Rather, it offers a change in the way federal revenue is raised that would provide a rare opportunity to cut taxes on both labor and investment income, as opposed to one or the other.”

    Paul Krugman’s introduction says, “To appreciate the reasonableness of what Redefining Progress has to say, it is important to understand that it is based on several well-founded propositions. First, measures to protect the environment–indeed, broader measures than we have instituted so far–are essential. Second, taxes (or other price mechanisms, such as the sale of pollution licenses) are in many cases the most effective way to implement such protection. Finally, since existing taxes already distort incentives to work, save, and invest, any revenue generated by pollution taxes that allows other taxes to be lower creates an extra ‘dividend’ to the economy.”

  8. Ron says:


    You seriously don’t understand how taking money away from people results in them having less money?

    And how do you know that the market can’t solve the ‘climate problem’? The only difference is where the money comes from – either through robbery or voluntarily; the technologies remain the same, don’t they?

    When people are free to invest their money where they see the most potential, those technologies will tend to flourish. If the money is ‘invested’ according to poltical ideas, decisions made by ‘committee’, there is less of a chance of those technologies being the ‘right’ ones. The committee, you see, is using other people’s money and doesn’t have the same incentive to be right that investors in a free market have.

  9. Paul K says:

    There is a market price for carbon. It is traded daily in the form of oil, coal and natural gas. There is not a price for CO2 or rather CO2 emissions. You would like, if I understand cap & trade, to create a market price for CO2 emissions through threat of taxation or penalty. Cap & trade has been used successfully on a national basis to reduce other pollutants.To be effective against global warming, the CO2 market must also be global. China, Russia and India must be participants.
    The idea that we should only tax what we wish to discourage makes economic sense.
    There are currently several impediments to a market solution to the problem of reducing CO2 to 90% below 1990 levels. Number one is that alternative energy costs will not go below carbon based energy for some time. Unless a way is found to radically reduce start up costs, the market cannot help. Secondly, the chances of an enforcible and honest global cap & trade CO2 market are slim. U.S. CO2 emissions are already being reduced. Bush bashing aside, we are leaders in this area. Finally, government action will be forthcoming to force the market. Like you I have little confidence in that.

  10. Michael says:

    Unregulated markets can only price what can be traded between two trading entities. Things that are not alienable, like health or ecological factors, require system-wide rules that are usually enforced by a government in order to establish prices and trading rules for them. This is the scientific reality of markets.

    Unfortunately believers like you have a religious adherence to the ideal that markets are a solution to everything. I don’t think Adam Smith would have wanted his ideas to have been treated as holy writ. I don’t know about you personally, Ron, but this religion has cost the United States a lot in terms of overall economic competitiveness particularly in the area of infrastructure.