Bill Gates knows that Microsoft is an international company, and he knows he needs Congress's help. But as he meets with D.C. insiders this week, Gates is emphasizing more work visas for infotech geniuses, overlooking the key to Silicon Valley's continuing prosperity—clean energy technology.
The fever is spreading worldwide. From Berlin to Bangalore, and from Buenos Aires to Boston, the engineers of the internet boom of the late 90s are retooling their workshops to work on solutions to today's clean energy quandaries.
At the same time, many of the world's brightest dream of working for companies like Google in their comfortable California compounds, so they seek H-1B visas, given for six years to proven experts from foreign countries, who are in turn drafted into American companies that are hungry for high-tech talent.
As Gates puts it, "Traditionally, the U.S. — because it's so attractive — has had this huge advantage that other countries bemoan. … Now, they celebrate the fact that we're kicking them out after giving them the world's best education." With 60% of the students in the nation's leading computer science schools foreign-born, Gates has part of the picture figured out.
But the Silicon Valley lobbying group TechNet also put its yearly suggestions to Congress this week, with members like Cisco and Intel CEOs as well as financial heavy-hitters from JP Morgan listing clean energy technology as a top concern in this period of $110 oil.
Though the immigration issue was also on TechNet's wish list, green technology won the first spot.
In its "2008 Innovation Policy Agenda," TechNet asks Congress for a major national push with a Green Technologies Initiative.
TechNet's Green Technologies Initiative
Promote and highlight new technologies and innovation as a critical part of the solution to national security, economic competitiveness and global energy and environmental challenges and encourage a national commitment for investment in and adoption of innovative green technologies. In addition, encourage public policies, best practices and initiatives to spur the development and adoption of new technologies to enhance energy efficiency, encourage use of renewable energy and protect the environment.
Oftentimes, we find that some of the most arduous hills in the race for fossil-free energy are the very same ones that computer geeks have become experts at climbing.
The truth is, Silicon Valley is already solving energy problems.
In wind energy, for example, storage capacity is a huge issue, as we still have a long way to evolve in building efficient turbine units and grid mechanisms that can meter out capacity like locks on a canal.
It's a good thing then, that today's household devices use the smallest power generation and storage systems ever known to man.
Solar cells present another problem, as they're largely dependent on the supply of silicon, which of course puts solar energy in direct competition with the computer chip industry.
Thank God companies like AMD and Intel have been making smaller and more powerful microprocessors as a matter of course for 40 years now, cutting back on material use while enabling tiny chips to manage major energy applications.
So when Bill Gates asks for looser H-1B limits (now around 100,000 a year including exemptions), he should think of computer comrades of his own like Shai Agassi, the Israeli tech wizard who left the head of software development at German tech giant SAP to found Project Better Place.
Project Better Place is the nerve center of an ambitious and heavily-funded scheme to get 100,000 electric cars on the road in Israel by the end of 2011. The project is being subsidized and promoted by the Israeli government, but can you guess where it's headquartered?
Twin International Bull Markets in IT and Clean Energy
There are already tens of thousands of IT professionals from foreign countries working in northern California and elsewhere in the United States.
When he acts as the mouthpiece of the nation's technology elite, Bill Gates has to address the fact that we are now in the throes of twin bull markets in energy and energy technology, and that the trends driving future profits are international in nature.
Here's a perfect example: This month, the San Francisco-based Cleantech Forum awarded its "Cleantech Leader of the Year" award to Persian Gulf monarchy Abu Dhabi's Masdar clean energy initiative, a city-scale zero-emissions plan being carried out in the desert with the help of MIT and other American tech stalwarts.
To advance the IT industry, clean energy technology must be a central element to any proposal, and cross-border endeavors like Project Better Place and Masdar should be strongly encouraged.
With proper planning we'll get competitive technologies and more profit possibilities with clean energy etfs and stocks as green energy technology moves forward.
Green Chip International