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Is anyone more incoherent than Vinod Khosla?*

By Joe Romm  

"Is anyone more incoherent than Vinod Khosla?*"

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*not counting Lindsey Graham or Sarah Palin

Another day, another dreadful opinion piece in the Washington Post.   The print headline easily takes first prize for the most incoherent headline I’ve ever seen on a climate op-ed:  “Carbon pricing won’t achieve emissions goals.”

Seriously.  That’s the headline, though presumably it came from the incoherent editors of the WashPost, and not the author, the self-identified “founder of the venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, which has interests in several aspects of clean technology, including solar, wind, batteries, carbon sequestration, nuclear, geothermal and biofuels, as well as in energy-efficiency technologies such as engines, electric motors, lighting, air conditioning and the smart grid.”

Khosla is one of those people, like Graham and Palin, who simply says whatever stuff pops into his head at the moment, no matter how illogical or self-contradictory it is.

In November he said, “I would venture that the cleanest power will not be solar, it will be coal.” As Casey Stengel said, you can look it up.  In December 2007, Khosla said, “Forget plug-ins. They are nice toys. But they will not be material to climate change.

Now he says in his WP piece — titled online “A simpler path to cutting carbon emissions”:

Consider: Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has proposed requiring electricity providers to use a minimum percentage of energy from renewable sources. If this standard were modified to allow low-carbon electricity from any source, not just renewable, with carbon emissions that are 80 percent lower than coal, it could get support from nuclear, natural gas and even coal advocates….

The United States could aim to get 20 to 25 percent of our electricity from sources that use 80 percent less carbon than benchmark coal by 2020, which would meet or exceed the standard set by the House bill passed last June….

Importantly, a low-carbon electricity standard would be superior to a utilities cap. A cap can easily be met in the next 10 years by incremental adjustments to existing assets (such as repowering coal power plants with natural gas and shutting the most inefficient plants). In contrast, a low-carbon electricity standard can be met only by the rapid development of radically low-carbon technology; these technologies can then be exported to India and China, which deploy much of the coal-fired electricity….

I guess this is more straight bullshit than incoherence.

First, there is zero chance of substantial commercial deployment of coal with carbon capture and storage technology that cuts emissions 80% by 2020 — see Is coal with CCS a core climate solution? and Harvard stunner: “Realistic” first-generation CCS costs a whopping $150 per ton of CO2 “” 20 cents per kWh!

So there is zero chance that coal advocates would support his standard.

Second, yes, along with efficiency and renewables, the 2020 cap target would partially be met by a switch to natural gas –  (see Game changer part 2: Unconventional gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet).  So tell me, why would natural gas advocates rather support an 80% reduction standard in 2020 — which could only be met with combined cycle gas turbine plants that also capture more than half of the CO2, a technology that is hardly being pursued for near-term commercialization.

And so the only difference between the 2020 low carbon standard and the 2020 renewable standard is nuclear power.  That is what Khosla would seem to be pushing here, intentionally or not, disingenuously or not.  Who knows why?  (see An introduction to nuclear power and Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost “” $10,800 per kilowatt! “” killed Ontario nuclear bid)

By the way, I’m certainly not opposed to achieving carbon goals through regulatory standards, rather than carbon pricing.  But it is ironic that such an approach would be considered more efficient or simpler.

Khosla pushes a lot of straw men:

Cherry-picking reductions of 5 to 10 percent through low-hanging efficiency upgrades could distract from developing technologies that reduce emissions 80 percent. By focusing instead on the large wedges that account for 75 percent of carbon emissions — electricity and transportation — we could achieve the lion’s share of our goals with a small fraction of the complexity.

Who even knows what that means?

The climate bill that passed the House didn’t cherry pick small efficiency gains — it used a massive amount of funding and very strong standards to promote aggressive efficiency gains.  The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) calculates for the savings from W-M’s efficiency provisions “” 5 quads saved in 2020 and 12.3 quads in 2030 (see “The triumph of energy efficiency: Waxman-Markey could save $3,900 per household and create 650,000 jobs by 2030“).

His transportation discussion is also BS:

Meanwhile, regulating cars in technology-neutral effective grams of carbon emitted per mile, instead of miles per gallon, would allow more efficient engines to compete with electric cars.

Huh?  The mpg standard has been a boon to advances in efficient engines, since making your car much more efficient is obviously the easiest way to meet an mpg standard.

Focus on electric cars and hybrids has already decreased investor interest in more-efficient engines.

Actually, there is a tremendous investor interest in more efficient engines.  The biggest investment is right where you would expect it — in the car companies.  And that is because the White advanced major fuel economy, emissions standard “” The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2.

There is a lot more incoherent BS in the piece, but TGIF.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/01/AR2010070104391.html

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18 Responses to Is anyone more incoherent than Vinod Khosla?*

  1. mike roddy says:

    I stopped paying attention to Vinod a while back. He was hailed as a genius for a while, but has been getting his butt kicked in the various harebrained energy technologies he’s invested in the last few years. As a result, he’s unraveled, and is doubling down on anything that is still in action and getting big funding, like coal and gas.

    Khosla’s basic error is in being dazzled by either extreme complexity or incrementalism, instead of focusing on clean, proven, and cost effective technologies like CSP and wind. It’s not that you need a utility or even energy specialist for energy investment evaluations, but apparently his company doesn’t even bother with engineers and project CFO’s.

    Vinod can get an audience with people who don’t know any better, like WaPo editors, but in Silicon Valley people start to squirm these days when he enters a room, and find an excuse to go to the bathroom.

  2. Jeff Hopkins says:

    Anything simple is worth considering, but note that Khosla is judging policies solely by their ability to cut carbon quickly, a fine social goal to put forth on the editorial page but one that is not universally shared by policymakers today.

    We know that markets and a pricing mechanism may not be the most rapid way to achieve a goal, but they are the most ‘efficient’ way to bring it about, and market prices have the virtue of maximizing consumer and producer surplus and in that sense collectively reward (rather than pick) winners. Khosla’s admonition to not pick winners is clearly not followed in the case of consumers who he tosses aside when he warns against going after the low-hanging efficiency upgrades and instead directs dollars to costliest part of the cost curve in the electricity and transportation sector.

    I guess that another issue I would pick at is his maintained assumption that uncertainty is better than low prices at stimulating investment – this is only the case if everybody is risk-averse and thereby over-invest in the face of uncertainty rather than under-invest, and moreover that investment in low-carbon technology is financially separable from investment in the rest of the business. It may be the case that a venture capitalist doesn’t have to worry about correlated risks within the portfolio but that doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t.

  3. Joe1347 says:

    It would be interesting to know what new ventures Khosla is aggressively funding and how they line up with the clean technologies being advocated by Khosla in the WashPo opinion piece.

    For example, it’s been reported that Khosla has been investing in new (radical) nuclear power technology – Terrapower.

    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/35m-for-terrapower-is-nuclear-power-green-power/

    As for incoherent ramblings from Khosla, he did just write a reasonable article on thin film solar startups. Of course, it ended up being a not so subtle plug for his own solar cell start-up Stion.

    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/what-really-matters-in-thin-film-solar-startups/

  4. Matto says:

    Ba-Zing! Joe puts another dumb jerk in his place. I don’t know what’s worse, Khosla’s column or the fact that the denialist disinformocrats at the Washington Post allowed this to be published in a national newspaper.

  5. Khosla is not someone to take seriously. For awhile he was pushing ethanol, in spite of the considerable evidence that it doesn’t yield much if any climate benefit and actually increases certain air pollution problems (see the work of Mark Jacobson at Stanford for details on the latter issue). I put him in the category of people like Bill Gates and other rich folk who foolishly think their success in the tech business translates into good judgment about energy technologies and systems. And as Will Rogers famously said about Herbert Hoover, “It isn’t what he doesn’t know that worries me, it’s what he knows for sure that just ain’t so”.

  6. Dave says:

    “Clean coal” will always be a horrible greenwashing myth. Extraction degrades the soil, forest, and water resources, particularly as surface mining has become the preferred method of extraction. The waste cycle includes more than stack emissions. The solid combustion waste is a source point for water contamination with heavy metals. The only place coal will ever be clean is when it remains in the ground. Why the Post continues to provide a forum for people like Palin and Khosla is beyond me. The Post has become little more than a rapidly failing advertising circular that provides a free publics relations forum to lobbyists. Sad. Very sad.

  7. john kearns says:

    “You can look it up” was Casey Stengal. Not Yogi. “Sir, please don’t draw enemy fire while you’re inspiring us.” Vintage Bill Mauldin.

  8. Richard Brenne says:

    John (#8) – You’re right of course, and Stengel also said “Can’t anybody here reduce CO2?”

    Coal will be cleaner than solar when pigs land F-16s on the frozen reaches of hell. . .

  9. Silicon Valley Guy says:

    To understand Khosala, you have to remember what he is selling. Young hot companies. He is a VC that funds small companies, pumps them up and sells them before anyone realizes if they actually have value.

    Ask him about his claim that his cellulosic ethanol investment would produce 1200 gal per acre per year. How is that company doing now?

  10. Lenny Dee says:

    Hi Joe,

    What do you think of the ITIF Report Ten Myths of Addressing Global Warming and the Green Economy

    [JR: Crap squared. Crap factorial? Response coming.]

  11. Chris Winter says:

    “Cherry-picking reductions of 5 to 10 percent through low-hanging efficiency upgrades could distract from developing technologies that reduce emissions 80 percent. By focusing instead on the large wedges that account for 75 percent of carbon emissions — electricity and transportation — we could achieve the lion’s share of our goals with a small fraction of the complexity.”

    This sounds a lot like Cheney’s line about conservation having no place in a broad energy policy. It also reminds me of the Breakthrough Institute stuff.

    I guess it translates to plain words as “I stand to make more money on a few big, long-term deals than on hundreds of small ones, and it’s a lot less bother.”

  12. Yes. Fred Pearce of Guardian renown and now with a book out, ‘The Climate Files’ based on that series of flawed articles in the Guardian a while back.

    Chris Mooney has a review article in this weeks New Scientist, 3 July 2010 page 42, which echoes our qualms about Pearce and his recent reporting.

    Sorry cannot find an online version right now. Maybe OT Joe so this is intended as a heads up – let this post fall through the cracks if you wish.

  13. Just found an earlier piece by Pearce in New Scientist (who Mooney describes as a consultant for New Scientist:

    “‘Climategate’ jibes fly over El Niño impact on warming”

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727670.201-climategate-jibes-fly-over-el-nino-impact-on-warming.html

    Thanks to Deltoid for bringing that to my attention.

  14. RoySV says:

    For those interested in further VK doings. He slimed extensive areas of the theoildrum.com circa summer of 2006. Vinod heavily engaged with Oil Drum staffer Robert Rapier who absolutely knows his way around barrels, BTU’s and all things petroleum. In the end, when Vinod’s fluffery was rejected, he spewed octopus ink and departed, claiming something like “EROI doesn’t matter” (EROI = Energy Recovered v Energy Invested) This was largely related to VK’s promotion of plant ethanol scams at that time.

    A sample is
    http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/7/29/205642/963
    For much more just go to theoildrum.com and search “vinod”

  15. Chris Winter says:

    RoySV wrote: “Oil Drum staffer Robert Rapier…”

    Robert Rapier? I bet he’s a witty guy. (Couldn’t resist…)

  16. evnow says:

    @RoySV Didn’t know TOD & Vinod. Interesting.

    BTW, I should point out most people at TOD would reject the suggestions in the blog as impracticle.

  17. Ziyu says:

    Does it matter whether we reduce emissions through a cap or a standard? No. But clean coal should NOT be counted as renewable unless they can prove that at LEAST 95% of carbon is being sequestered and won’t come out. So far, no. Biofuels can count but ethanol doesn’t count and any other type has to prove that it has 95% less net emissions than coal. However, it is a loose interpretation. If a wood burning plant uses dying wood that would have released all the CO2 content anyway as fuel, then it has no net emissions. If we are going to achieve long term emissions reductions through a standard, nuclear power will have to be included but I want it limited in role.