Should the energy sector focus on innovation or efficiency?

If you're looking to spend money on low-carbon energy technology, you're probably faced with this problem: Do you invest in new, unproven technologies, or on making tried-and-true tech more efficient?

GreenBiz's Joel Makower sat down with the Rocky Mountain Institute's chief scientist Amory Lovins and MNL Partners' co-founder Matthew Nordan to talk about where investors should put dollars.

Lovins argued that a lot can be done with tech that is available today, citing the opportunity cost of spending resources on innovation versus implementation.

"We focus a lot more on getting the job done, getting stuff installed and getting it installed cheaply, because opportunity cost matters," Lovins said. "I'm not denying more innovative technologies would be nifty. We're going to get a lot of those, but I don't think they're necessary."

Nordan agreed that there is a steep opportunity cost to innovating, but he made the case that such investments will pay off in the log term. Noting that the last time new carbon-free power generating technologies — solar PV and nuclear — were invented in the 1950s, he said that the "innovation reservoir" for energy generation is being harnessed but not renewed.

Speaking to the venture capital community, Nordan said that entrepreneurs have a big challenge raising money.

"Right now, there are a lot of people who are developing what comes next in solar," Nordan said. "You are launched into a yawning gap, where on [one] side is the Department of Energy and RBE. On [the other] side is the venture community. And nobody in the middle wants to hear you."