John Doerr Gives U.S. ‘C’ Grade on Alternative-Energy

John Doerr Gives U.S. ‘C’ Grade for Alternative-Energy
A General Motors Co. Chevrolet Volt is shown at Columbia University in New York. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

(Corrects sixth paragraph to add phrase, “research and development.”)

Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- John Doerr, head of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s alternative-energy practice, said he would give the U.S. a C grade for development of green technology, which trails innovation in Internet and biotechnology.

His grade would have been a D or F without $20 billion in loan guarantees for clean-energy projects under President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan and collaborative work between the government and private sector, Doerr said yesterday at an event in Palo Alto, California. He and other members of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness spoke on a panel about entrepreneurship.

“Thanks to this administration and the fundamental sciences, we’re in the game,” said Doerr, 60. “That stimulus was and is intended to be timely and temporary, and we have to develop in America the markets for this sustainable clean energy and the financial capability to cause it to grow.”

Kleiner Perkins, a venture firm based in Menlo Park, California, introduced the $500 million Green Growth Fund in 2008, two years after it started investing in alternative energy. Doerr’s clean-technology investments include Bloom Energy Corp., a fuel-cell company, and MiaSole Inc., a thin-film solar panel startup.

Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill provided tax breaks and other incentives to projects such as those focused on developing alternative sources of energy, modernizing the electricity grid and creating advanced batteries.

Still, the marketplace has been slow to emerge because of a lack of privately funded research and development, and the failure of the financial markets to support the industry, Doerr said in an interview after the event. The U.S. spends more money on potato chips than clean energy research and development, he said.

‘Huge Change’

There are some positive signs, Doerr said. Automakers last week agreed to double the fuel economy of the vehicles they sell in the U.S. to a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The proposal was negotiated with automakers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

“That is a huge change,” Doerr said.

Doerr was joined on stage yesterday by America Online Inc. co-founder Steve Case, Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Netflix Inc. Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings and the Obama administration’s technology chief, Aneesh Chopra. The event, at VMWare Inc.’s headquarters, was held to foster discussion among entrepreneurs about how the government and businesses can work together to encourage innovation and job creation.

Internet, Mobile, Social

For information technology innovation, including the Internet, mobile and social networking industries, the U.S. gets an A-plus, said Doerr, who was an early investor in Google Inc. and remains a board member at the Internet-search company. In biotechnology, the U.S. is falling behind other countries in drug and medical-testing development, though it still merits a B grade, he said.

Doerr, who joined Kleiner Perkins in 1980, also backed technology companies such as Intuit Inc. and Inc. He changed his focus and began investing in alternative energy in 2006.

“Green tech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” Doerr said in February 2006.

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at