Thirty-five world ambassadors toured Silicon Valley with a stop at Palo Alto's Tesla Motors on Tuesday for a glimpse of how Bay Area technologies might help their countries and how developing tech in their nations might contribute to the world economy.
The ambassadors and their spouses, who came from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, took part in the U.S. State Department's Experience America trip to San Francisco from March 29 to April 2. The trip introduced them to U.S. business and community leaders and local entrepreneurs. It is the 16th trip since the program began and the 12th since the beginning of the Obama administration, Jessica Andrews of the Office of the Chief of Protocol, said.
The Diplomatic Corps members met with the incubator 500 Startups in San Francisco to discuss global innovation and entrepreneurship on Monday. They visited the Khan Academy in Mountain View for a discussion on technology and global education on Tuesday followed by the Tesla visit to share ideas on clean energy and the future of automobiles.
"For the last three years, American companies in my country have been the first job creators of all foreign investors," said Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania Zygimantas Pavilionis, after slipping out from behind the steering wheel of a silver Tesla Model S on the showroom floor.
Pavilionis is building a Consulate General in Los Angeles and is hunting for the best technologies for his country. About 40 percent of employees have university degrees and labor is still not too expensive for investment, he said.
He was joined by a large contingent of ambassadors from former Soviet Union nations, including the republics of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Herzegovina, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
Olexander Motsyk, ambassador of Ukraine, said the war-torn country wants to build peace through diplomatic means and as part of its reform, wants to build a high-tech infrastructure.
"We have a big potential for IT. We are No. 5 in outsourcing in the world," he said.
Several ambassadors expressed interest in Tesla's energy-storage innovations, particularly in its supercharger network, which enables its electric vehicles to charge quickly within a half hour. Tesla currently has 300 station locations worldwide, said Ken Morgan, Tesla director of business development.
Some ambassadors said their countries are developing wind and solar power but are struggling with electric-storage capacity. Paraguay has two big electricity-producing dams that the country shares with Brazil, which can produce surplus electricity for 25 years, for example, Ambassador Igor Alberto Pangrazio Vera said.
Tesla representatives said that source would be great for electric vehicles. Once storage technology is in place, the load could be managed by utilities and customers could opt in for uses, whether for vehicles, homes or businesses.
Asked about Tesla's take on the effect of falling oil prices on electric vehicles, Morgan said shifting to electric vehicles would create more consistency and less dependence on the volatile ups and downs of oil prices. Tesla currently offers power for free to its customers at its charging stations, he said.
Hunaina Al Mughairy, ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman, said the country's biggest collaboration with the U.S. is Occidental Petroleum, which has more than doubled the number of barrels of oil produced from 50,000 to 120,000, she said. But the long-term effect of how a movement to electric energy would affect the country's economy is not known.
"We have to wait and see," she said.
Diplomats Tuesday were clearly interested in clean energy. Michael Moussa-Adamo, ambassador of the Gabonese Republic, said the African nation has been working to diversify its economy for the past six years. Gabon is striving to be "the greenest country in the world. ... This is an eye opener," he said.
The Internet is developing rapidly in the Kyrgyz Republic, Ambassador Kadyr Toktoghulov said.
"The whole phenomenon of Silicon Valley and how engineering has come to this level on a global scale is out of here. Silicon Valley is the place we now look up to, not just to be users, but to contribute as well," he said.
The ambassadors returned to San Francisco for a discussion on the sharing economy and the success of Airbnb in foreign markets on Wednesday. They attended a panel discussion with the Napa Valley Vintners at Francis Ford Coppola's Inglenook Winery in Rutherford.