Why Bill Gates is embracing clean tech

Part of the answer lies with the story of a Silicon Valley startup that's merging IT and clean energy technologies

By , Computerworld |  Government, energy, Smart Grid

WASHINGTON -- It should not be a surprise that tech industry titans, including Microsoft 's chairman and former CEO, Bill Gates, are pushing the U.S. to dramatically increase spending for clean energy technology. The IT links to clean technology get stronger by the day, and if the push in Washington by Gates and venture capitalist John Doerr to get the federal government to triple its research and development spending succeeds, Silicon Valley is certain to benefit.

One person who illustrates the multidimensional connections among IT, federal funding and clean tech is Gene Wang, CEO of People Power Co.

Wang's 18-month-old company has developed what it calls an Open Source Home Area Network (OSHAN) that connects household appliances and other energy-using devices to a Web-based portal for energy tracking. It has a kit, available for $150, called SuRF, for Sensor Ultra-Radio Frequency that developers can use to create wireless energy sensors.

Wang's company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is funded through venture capital but also with federal help, through a U.S. Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR) grant, which was announced by the U.S. Department of Energy. Wang has a long history of working in IT, including a job as a vice president of marketing for Hewlett-Packard Co.'s handheld business unit. He also incorporates IT's open source ethos in his approach.

At a press conference today to release a report on clean tech, both Doerr and Gates said the U.S. needs to triple its research and development spending from $5 billion to $16 billion if it wants to achieve global leadership in this area, in much the same way it has achieved leadership in biotechnology and IT.

Doerr, Gates and other business leaders were due to meet later Thursday with President Barack Obama.

Wang said China, in particular, is focusing billions of dollars on green technologies. "We somehow have this picture that the Chinese are good low-cost manufacturers but they don't have good engineering, and while there still may be some truth to that depiction, it is really by and large not the case. So we had better really watch out and double and triple down on our priorities," Wang said.

But the U.S. also has an obligation to the world to adopt clean tech, because if its huge energy consumption on a per capita basis, Wang said.

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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