The company that funded Netscape, Google and Genentech is now focusing on electric cars, solar power and biofuels. New York Times contributor Jon Gertner has been meeting with Kleiner partners since last year. His 8,000-word feature in Sunday's paper goes deep on details of a few KPCB investments such as Ausra. But it spends a lot of time framing the story for non-techies outside the Valley. Here's the Sand Hill Road edit:

In many parts of Silicon Valley, it seems misguided to regard the U.S. economy as reliant solely on Wall Street. The future still depends on entrepreneurs and innovations — and green-tech businesses getting “traction.” Most of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s ventures are long-term investments. And entrepreneurs are still bringing new ideas through the door at a steady pace. “I don’t expect the credit crunch will change that,” said partner John Denniston. Some of the firm’s fledging green ventures are evolutionary improvements on current technologies that will soon hit the market, like the electric Think car. Others promise to revolutionize various aspects of the energy economy — solar power or biofuels — much as Netscape or Google remade the Web, or Genentech ushered in the biotechnology era. Kleiner was not the only venture firm that had suddenly seen the future and decided it was green. But Kleiner’s past success tends to legitimize the prospects of business ideas that in many cases have spent decades on the economic fringe. The most challenging aspect of Kleiner’s endeavor is for green tech to expand into the markets more rapidly than any energy technology has done before. Academics sometimes call this process the diffusion of technology. Diffusion can go very fast, with personal computers or Facebook. But in the field of energy, new technologies have moved quite slowly into the mainstream. It has been 54 years since the silicon solar cell was invented in New Jersey at Bell Laboratories. A front-page article in the Times heralded the breakthrough – in 1954 — as something that promised to revolutionize the world. John Doerr: “To get solutions at scale, we’re going to have to find answers that are economic for all people everywhere. We’ve got to use policy to harness innovation to make sure that the right thing to do is a profitable thing to do — so it becomes the probable thing to have happen.” Al Gore believes when the governments of the world assign a price to carbon—within a year or two — demand for carbon-free electricity will explode. Partner Randy Komisar says the energy market is large and outdated: “I’m not very good at hitting the bull’s-eye. I need a big target. And this is the biggest target I’ve ever seen in my life.”

(Photo by Ausra)