This week I was invited to be a guest on the BBC’s Business Matters with host Jon Bithrey and The Wall Street Journal’s Alex Frangos. We had a lively conversation about Silicon Valley’s hot stories: The unveiling of Google’s driverless car and Apple’s purchase of Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics for $3B.
Beyond the obvious detail that Google’s new car is all-electric (which Katie Fehrenbacher points out is important), we explored why driverless cars may one day contribute to a cleaner and more efficient transport sector. Find out how below…
Here’s a transcript of our conversation. It’s been edited for length and clarity. Listen from 18:27 at the BBC World Service.
Bithrey: Google is to start building its own fleet of self driving cars…Let’s bring in our guests, Alison van Diggelen in San Francisco and Alex Frangos in Hong Kong. Alison… have you seen any in your neighborhood…Google trying out their self driving cars?
van Diggelen: I’ve seen many on Highway 85 between Mountain View and San Jose. You see them a lot, but I haven’t seen this particular one. What is unique about this is that it only goes 25 mph and it’s built from the ground up…they’re going to be building about 100 of them and we’ll probably see them in and around Google, they’re going to use it between buildings on their campus. That is the plan.
But what’s exciting about it from my point of view – I cover cleantech – and the beauty of self driving cars is that it can be a more efficient way to transport us. Self driving cars can allow “platooning” so cars can convoy really close together, you can get more cars on the road and it can include car sharing. And here’s an interesting example: in the future, you may be able to rent a car, and you may not want do the autonomous self drive car, but you just call it up on your app and it can deliver itself to your door. And that to me is an interesting, futuristic view of what they one day may be able to do.
Bithrey: (laughter) It is indeed. There are critics who say that… they could make traffic worse, and urban sprawl worse because people won’t have to drive any more. It will tire them out less if they’re not having to drive themselves, and so they may be happy to make longer journeys in these and thus be more polluting.
van Diggelen: Yes, that’s a possibility, however, the interesting thing with this car is that it is an electric car, so again that’s a greener alternative to your internal combustion engine. Another advantage of autonomous cars…is that you can have parking lots where you take your car to the edge of the parking lot and say, “Go Park Yourself.” It will have sensors on the car and in parking spaces, so those cars will be able to pack themselves in much more efficiently, so a more efficient use of available space. I take your point about longer commutes, but there are greener aspects to it too.
Bithrey: Alex Frangos in Hong Kong, is this the type of thing you’d like to try out? Would you trust a driverless car?
Frangos: I’d trust it probably as much as I’d trust all the other crazies who are on the road with me. Saying it’s unsafe is only in comparison to how unsafe it already is on the road, given how terrible drivers can be in various countries of the world. The thing that is, not troubling, but would take the enjoyment out of driving and misses the point, especially in the US of why people drive: the freedom and control it gives people. Or at least a sense of freedom and control to go where they want and do what they want… make a spontaneous turn or what not.
Bithrey: It’s just a more advanced version of cruise control isn’t it?
Frangos: No, I think it’s much more than that because you’re giving up control to the computer. So it could be a great improvement in life, but it would change what driving means, especially to Americans.
Bithrey: Yes, it might be slightly strange just having a stop/go button and not having all the other things we’re used to inside a car. OK, we’ll be back with you both on Business Matters on the BBC World Service….
Want to hear the entire show at the BBC? Listen here
Other topics we cover:
On collaboration: a group of four authors have collaborated on a single novel called “Keeping Mum.” We ask them how it’s possible to keep such a large group focused on a single plot. @26:40
On Maya Angelou: “This will resonate not just for novelists but for business people too. ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’ (Maya Angelou)” @39:05
On Apple’s acquisition of Dr Dre’s Beats Electronics. Will it make Apple cooler? @45:56
Find out more about BBC conversations
In April, we discussed Apple’s green strategy (renewable energy supply, recycling iPods etc) on BBC Business Matters
Listen to my other appearances on BBC Business Matters re. how Fresh Dialogues began; the Dalai Lama in Silicon Valley; Scottish independence and much more.
It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).
1. Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles
“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video
2. Mayor Chuck Reed on leveraging private funding for San Jose’s Green Agenda
“I said from the beginning that the key to being able to succeed with our green vision was to work with other people’s money.” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. Read more/ listen.
3. Carly Fiorina on fighting climate change
“The most effective thing the US should do is start substantive discussions with China on what they can do.” Carly Fiorina. Read more or listen here.
4. Jennifer Granholm on Obama and energy policy
“He should create a clean energy jobs race to the top.” Former Michigan Gov., Jennifer Granholm. Read more/ see video
5. Peter Rumsey on Net Zero Buildings and kids
“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem.” San Francisco Exploratorium Green Designer, Peter Rumsey. Read more/ see video
6. Gavin Newsom on why a carbon tax makes sense
“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.” Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video
7. Steven Chu on climate change deniers
“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60′s and 70′s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video
8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption
“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video
9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds
“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20
10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet
“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video
Google’s Director of Energy and Sustainability, Rick Needham describes the company’s fleet of electric vehicles and how it has enabled millions of miles of electric driving (almost 2M and counting). As well as the “usual suspects” like Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Focus Electric, Google’s electric “Gfleet” includes several Tesla Model S, a favorite due to its range of up to 265 miles. But is that the whole story?
Google continues to grow its electric fleet. In 2011, it had 30 electric plug-ins, today it has over 50.
Here’s what Needham had to say about:
1. Google’s focus on the self-driving car
“We view that as a very interesting place to spend some time and effort and come up with a technology solution that can really help. It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads. If you could enable that to be utilized more effectively… whether that be cars that can travel closer together (in a platoon), cars that travel and you can be doing productive things while they’re moving… There are a lot of opportunities on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham
This strategy makes a lot of sense, given Google’s ability to integrate Google Maps and traffic conditions to make driving both more efficient and safer.
2. Why it invested in car sharing companies Uber, Sidecar and Relay Rides
“It’s an enormous opportunity. Today the car sharing market is just over $3 Billion (in the US)…That’s just starting out…there quite a roadway, a runway there, to have a much bigger impact…” Google’s Rick Needham
Read more about how the Uber investment offers synergistic opportunities for Google and may help change the future of transportation.
Why it all might be related
Some commentators like Green Car Report’s John Voelcker have speculated that all this might be part of Google’s grand plan to purchase Tesla and use it to launch a driverless car-sharing taxi service sometime early in the 2020s. Tesla’s Elon Musk is good friends with Larry Page and has discussed the potential of driverless cars.
Google’s Clean Energy Struggle
Today, only 34% of the energy Google uses comes from renewable sources like wind and solar power. This is not something to boast about, especially given Apple’s claim to use 100% renewable power, but as Needham explains, he’s chasing a moving target. As the number of Google searches soars and more Google services are adopted, Google’s energy use is growing so fast that it battles to keep up with clean energy sources, despite investing over $1Billion in wind and solar power.
Find out more about Google’s strategy to green its energy supply, green its buildings, and reduce its carbon footprint.
From the archives, here’s an interview with Google’s Parag Chokshi about Google’s Green Dream, which predicts electric vehicles could command a 90% market share by 2030.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
This month, I moderated a panel of green jobs experts for the Commonwealth Club Silicon Valley. Experts included: Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager, Google; Josh Green, General Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures; Linda Keala, Vice President Human Resources, SolarCity and Nanci Klein, Deputy Director, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose.
You can listen to the conversation here. The event will soon be televised: Contact us or check back soon for details.
The panel shared insights about the green economy, as well as tips for finding and securing green investments and green jobs. Here are highlights of our conversation (edited for space and clarity).
What are hot sectors in the green economy?
Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “In the current environment, we’re looking for less capital intensive deals (energy efficiency, LED lighting and building management systems), so that means we’re on the side of energy demand much more than energy production. People call this cleantech IT – Information Technology. I’m an investor in Xicato, an LED module company. The LED convergence will happen…the payback is less than two years and (it’s) equivalent to halogen light. You don’t have to replace them for ten years or more and especially in a commercial settings, you end up lowering your maintenance costs.”
On cleantech growth sectors in Silicon Valley
Nanci Klein, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose: “People say manufacturing has left the US…but manufacturing is very exciting here. When you talk about innovation and commercialization, Silicon Valley is a hub around new product introduction. Contract manufacturers will take a low volume, high mix of products. …the ten largest in the world – Tier One contract manufacturers – are all here in Silicon Valley, six of them in San Jose. They’re like a secret weapon resource. We try to link baby investors to these companies. You take someone with a hot idea and you put them with all of the accelerated services…if the product is good you can have a rocket in terms of acceleration.”
Nanci said the following Silicon Valley cleantech companies are currently hiring: Flextronics, SunPower, Solar Junction, Nanosolar, Lunera, Enlighted, Philips Lumilix, Coulomb/ChargePoint, Echelon, Cypress Envirosytems.
Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “The loan guarantee program is operating well within the loan loss reserves. Certain loans are going to fail…The Solyndra mess became a big political football…the good news is that we’ve passed the half life…Congress officially stopped all its hearings. There will be continued efforts to end the loan guarantee program…but Solyndra itself: it’s over in terms of an issue. As investors, it never was an issue, it was a company that was not successful…I’ve got a portfolio with lots of companies that are not successful. Out of 100 investments, if you have 10 that meet your investment objectives (10x your money or better) then you’re ‘wildly’ successful, that makes you a top venture capitalists. That means you have a 90% – under your expectations success – rate.”
Tips on getting a green job
Linda Keala, Director of HR, SolarCity:
1. “A background in cleantech is not a prerequisite.”
2. “Differentiate yourself – what about the job (post) got you inspired? What resonated about the company?”
3. “I love getting handwritten letters. A personalized message tells me this is who I am, this is what I can bring to the company. Sometimes I get them in little pink envelopes…”
4. “Touch a spot in our hearts and we’ll take a close look at that resume.”
Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “Have passion to change the world.”
How to get a job in Google’s Green Team (there are currently seven openings in the sustainability/green team areas)
Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager at Google:
Here are the qualities Google looks for:
1. “Be a self starter, work independently and drive forward a project.”
2. “Think about creative solutions. We value innovation and creativity.”
3. “Show passion and new ways of thinking about things…that is very valuable.”
How is the City of San Jose helping entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond?
Nanci Klein, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose: Here are some of the resources available – The Entrepreneur Center in downtown San Jose; Business Owner Space; Opportunity Fund. Check out SJEconomy.com. She also recommends the Cleantech Open competition and SolarTech an association for those in solar and financing sectors. The City of San Jose is working in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and others to create Prospect Silicon Valley, a demonstration and commrecialization center for cleantech startups.
On storage and battery technology
Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “Storage is the most important development that could happen for our grid at the utility scale storage level as well as the emerging EV market to encourage the widespread adoption of EVs. ON the grid side, there is NO storage…the second you produce an electron it has to be consumed…this results in the creation of “Peaker Plants” used for 5-15 hours a year (especially in August). Storage has the greatest potential to unlock value.
In the transportation sector, lithium ion batteries are the lightest batteries and they still weigh about 1400 lbs in the new Tesla Model S. To the extent that you can get these to be a smaller battery pack you can unlock incredible advantages.
For the next 10 years, lithuim ion technologies are going to be where batteires and storage are focused. There are about 50-60 venture backed companies in the Bay Area, working on advanced battery technology. Mohr Davidow has invested in extracting lithium from geothermal brine at goethermal plants in Southern California. Its the lowest cost producer in the world with the best environmental footprint. We believe that lithium will help fuel the storage revolution.“
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Bill Weihl, former Green Czar at Google will start work greening Facebook in late January next year. As Fresh Dialogues predicted on his departure from Google last November, Weihl will stay in the green arena and plans to “advance sustainability” at Facebook. No details yet on his job title or the extent of his responsibilities, but he confirmed, “the focus will be on sustainability, clean energy, energy efficiency, etc.” We anticipate Weihl will use his extensive experience and passion for green to drive Facebook’s sustainable practices, leveraging its game-changing apps and Facebook’s vast membership of over 800 million active users.
Under his leadership at Google from 2006 to 2011, the company took a unique role in green policy advocacy as well as over $700 M in cutting edge clean energy investment. In July, Fresh Dialogues covered Google’s Green Dream, an audacious report outlining how the right green investment and policy could positively impact the economy and the planet. Without Weihl at the helm, Green at Google may lose some impetus, although Google’s Parag Chokshi assured us green investment and programs will continue. A new Green Czar has not yet been announced.
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