ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit 2010

Vinod Khosla: In energy, ignore the experts

By Martin LaMonica, March 3, 2010 08:21 AM US Eastern Timezone

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.--Monkeys throwing darts have the same predictive powers as experts forecasting the price of oil or when grandmas will surf the Web with mobile phones, says Vinod Khosla.

The high-profile investor, who raised over $1 billion for a green-technology fund last year, argued here Wednesday that technology change in energy will happen faster than most expect because energy has now become a focus on technical innovation.

Khosla spoke at the ARPA-E Summit, a conference dedicated to showcasing breakthrough clean-energy technologies, where he challenged attendees to think big.

As an example of missed forecasts, he cited McKinsey's 1980 prediction that there would be fewer than 1 million mobile phones sold in 2000 when the actual number was over 100 million. Handicapping the price of oil, too, is often off-target because experts' assumptions are wrong.

"It's technology change that people miss and fail to forecast and I see that happening all over again in energy," he said. "A better way to forecast the future is to invent it because it's been proven that extrapolating the past doesn't work."

Not surprisingly, Khosla cited examples of companies that he is funding to demonstrate how technology can tackle the primary challenges in energy, which he said are coal, oil, materials, and efficiency.

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