Silicon Valley gets excited about clean-energy tech

Rising oil prices and increasing competition from fast-developing countries like China have some energy entrepreneurs in California’s tech-savvy Silicon Valley increasingly excited about the potential of good ol’ American ingenuity to curb the world’s addiction to fossil fuels — and make a buck doing it. Companies like SunPower are working to make solar panels among the most efficient in the world, and Genencor expects to be able to make clean-burning plant-derived ethanol competitive with gasoline in three to five years. Bob Epstein, founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a Silicon Valley clean-technology group, sees the biggest promise for California companies in biofuels — “solv[ing] the problem of how to efficiently convert energy from plant material.” Venture capitalists are also seeing promise in clean-energy development, with 2.4 percent of capital investment in the U.S. last year going toward clean energy, up from 0.8 percent in 1999.