The energy industry needs to achieve “escape velocity” with the help of entrepreneurial innovation, said one of Silicon Valley’s leading thought leaders said recently.

“If you think about the energy industry as an enterprise and we look at the entrepreneurial people involved, [they] are the energy mitochondria or the chloroplasts that are going to create the escape velocity,” Geoffrey Moore said to a conference audience gathered in California last week.

“There’s a rhythm to developing disruptive technologies,” Moore said. “Society needs these innovations and developed economies need them more.”

Geoffrey Moore, a high-tech consultant and venture partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures spoke at the July 14 Clean Tech Open Investors Summit in San Jose, California.

Moore said he believes that the energy industry could learn a lot from high-tech successes. But investing in breakthrough technologies in the energy industry made more complex by extensive regulation designed to guarantee safety, prevent price gouging and boost reliability. The energy sector also requires coordination between a wide range of different constituencies.

“An entrepreneur cannot go to a utility. You’re talking about going from the very most nascent thing to the very most mature conservative thing. What is the art of execution here: projects, to solutions, to products to systems. That’s the art for the entrepreneur. The crossing the chasm challenge – are we there yet? No we’re not.”

Breaking Free

“But you just don’t see the motion that you were hoping to see,” Moor said. “You keep hearing of plans for pilot after pilot but how do we achieve escape velocity, how do we break free from the legacy of the past?”

Moore said he thinks the federal government needs to step in and make sure that energy innovation is brought to market and aligned with existing power markets and utilities.

“It’s not that we lack for good ideas. It’s how do we get those ideas to a material portion of the energy spend in the world. That’s a real question for the policy folks to help us.”

In 1991, Moore published Crossing the Chasm, a groundbreaking book on early stage technologies, and he is credited with coining terms such as ‘early adopters’ that influenced the venture capital industry in Silicon Valley. Moore’s new book Escape Velocity: Free Your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past, will be published this September.

He believes that for innovation to work, it must be directly targeted at a specific consumer market.

“When you cross a chasm, you need to focus on a small segment that is in serious pain: it’s big enough to matter, but small enough to win,” Moore said to the conference audience. “Do we have that target beachhead where we think there is enough pain and the money to solve that pain and will go that extra mile to help us get across the chasm. It can’t just be a nice to have, it has to be a must have for that one niche market.”

Photo Caption: Innovation in action: a new electric vehicle ‘Like T3′ developed jointly by auto maker Mitsuoka Motor and machinery and battery maker Yuasa M&B during a press conference in Tokyo on July 7, 2011. The two Japanese firms will conduct field tests of the two-seater and three-wheel small truck, which has a top speed of 60km per hour.