On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a segment highlighting recent struggles in the field of renewable technologies. The piece was, as one might glean upon reading its title, highly critical of the industry’s failures, and of our government’s role in funding some of these high-profile flops.Lesley Stahl doesn’t hold back in her skepticism of Silicon Valley types’—people like Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla—ability to understand and adapt to an entirely new industry. Khosla’s defense: “That’s fair criticism, but I am learning, and I am trying. And they’re sitting there doing nothing. They’re being the naysayers, the pundits, who say why it can’t be done. But they won’t try. Now, sure, we’ve done lots of things that failed in energy. But every time we learned, picked ourselves up, and tried something new.”Khosla has a point. We absolutely need innovators, people with creative new approaches to problems and the conviction to keep trying new methods when confronted by failure. That we haven’t figured out some magic green bullet in the cleantech field by now isn’t surprising, and by itself wouldn’t even be distressing.But here’s the rub: the federal government has been on the hook for a lot of these failures. Stahl rattles off a depressingly long string of failed cleantech companies (many of which will be familiar to our readers) that received substantial government backing. Again, that these firms failed isn’t the distressing part. But Uncle Sam shouldn’t be playing the role of venture capitalist, gambling on the implementation of nascent technologies by picking winners and losers. The risk of picking wrong is, as we’ve seen in Solyndra and Fisker, very high, as is the risk of crony capitalism.Rather than directly funding companies looking to peddle cleantech, we should be funneling taxpayer money towards the research and development of the technologies that undergird the industry. In other words, we should be developing more efficient solar panels, rather than investing in a company that produces panels based on current-generation technology.