Bill Gates thinks we need better ideas for producing clean energy and combating climate change. So he’s throwing more than $1 billion into a fund that will look for bigger solutions than we have today. And he’s rounded up an A-list group of fellow business billionaires like Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to invest in the fund with him.
Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) aims to commercialize innovative technologies in five key areas that contribute the most to emissions today: electricity generation and storage, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings. The money will be distributed over the course of 20 years. And because of the long-term outlook, it’s free to search for game-changing and lasting solutions without the worry of immediate profitability.
“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” Gates told Quartz in an interview.
But clean energy has historically been much more fickle a venture than IT. For instance, over half the investment dollars that went to clean energy between 2006 and 2011 was lost and funding has gotten more scarce as a result. Gates himself conceded that one of his biggest challenges may be in finding quality companies to invest in.
“We’ll probably be more limited by the number of companies there are that really meet our criteria in terms of chance of success … than we are by the funds we have available,” Gates said, according to PBS NewsHour.
To really work, the fund also needs participation from the federal government through funding for research at educational institutions like Stanford, Berkeley, and MIT. The government today funds a large percentage of fundamental research efforts which private investors have been able to commercialize.
But America’s future commitment to such research is coming into question as we witness President-elect Donald Trump pick fossil fuel enthusiasts into various cabinet positions. Included into the list are a climate change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the CEO of ExxonMobil for Secretary of State.
According to Bloomberg, Gates attempted to address that by pitching his agenda to Trump in an 8-minute call two weeks prior. We can at least say he expressed optimism over the exchange.
“The key point I was pushing there was the opportunity for innovation in not only energy but also medicine and education and encouraging the idea that that’s a great deal and a great thing for American leadership,” Gates said.
All the while, a deadline to curb carbon emissions continues to loom over the rhetoric. The Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund states the world is set to double energy consumption by the middle of this century and a lot of demand will come from parts of the world that never had access to energy supplies before.
While coal consumption plateaus in developed economies such as the US and China, places like India continue to ramp up demand. Realistically, developed countries not only need to get to zero emissions, they’ll need to go negative to offset global output. This is just a kick start to the research and innovation we’ll need to reach that goal.