Investor: Green tech vital to U.S. competitiveness

Kleiner Perkins investors and IT veteran Ray Lane makes a "call to action" to invest in clean-energy technologies and manufacturing to stimulate U.S. exports.

A panel considers whether cleaner tech boost the auto industry. From left, Center for Automotive Research CEO David Cole, venture investor Ray Lane, Ford Motor Chairman Bill Ford, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Martin LaMonica/CNET

DETROIT--Venture investor and former Oracle president Ray Lane argued on Wednesday that U.S. is losing out to other countries in emerging energy technologies.

Lane, now a partner at famed venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, said that the U.S. needs to view clean-energy technologies as a way to rebuild a shaky economy and position the country for long-term growth.

He spoke at the Business of Plugging In conference here on Wednesday, where many speakers emphasized the benefits of electric vehicles to reduce oil imports, cut carbon emissions, and revitalize the ailing auto industry.

But Lane made the case that there are implications to national economic competitiveness as well. There are technology disruptions happening in energy that will shake up a number of industries, but the U.S. is being outpaced in investing in this area by other countries.

"We can expect to live in the next 10 years where China will outspend us in order to invent the technologies," Lane said. "We may be buying their technology if we do not ramp up our seriousness. We led electronics, we led biotech, we led the Internet. We are not leading in this arena."

Lane said that other countries, including Germany and China, have policies that are more conducive to technology innovation and manufacturing. Auto efficiency standards are one third more efficient than the U.S. in China, which spends a higher percentage of economic output on research and development and has set aggressive goals for wind power adoption.

"Engineering must come back to be our number one priority," Lane said. "This is wrong time to cut R & D."

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