Guardian James Murray Feb. 24, 2016
Tech billionaire predicts innovation will deliver the clean energy the world desperately needs, but only if young people, businesses, and governments step up to the plate, reports Business Green
Bill Gates has predicted researchers will “discover a clean energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world” within the next 15 years.
In their annual open letter, Bill and Melinda Gates provide an update on their plans to stimulate innovation in technologies for tackling climate change, energy poverty, and gender inequality.
In Bill’s section of the letter, which is addressed to teenagers, the Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist argues it should be a development priority to deliver clean energy to the 1.3 billion people who do not have access to power.
He also stresses that the new power needs to be low carbon in order to tackle the risks presented by climate change. “If we really want to help the world’s poorest families, we need to find a way to get them cheap, clean energy,” he writes. “Cheap because everyone must be able to afford it. Clean because it must not emit any carbon dioxide – which is driving climate change.”
And Gates argues the goal has to be truly zero emission power. “Can’t we just aim to cut carbon emissions in half?’ I asked many scientists,” Gates wrote. “But they all agreed that wouldn’t be enough. The problem is that CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for decades. Even if we halted carbon emissions tomorrow, the temperature would still rise because of the carbon that’s already been released. No, we need to get all the way down to zero.”
In something of a break from past comments when Gates has been critical of renewable energy technologies, once dismissing wind and solar power as “cute”, the letter welcomes recent rapid progress on renewable energy.
“New green technologies are allowing the world to produce more carbon-free energy from solar and wind power,” he writes. “Maybe you live near a wind farm or have seen solar panels near your school. It’s great that these are getting cheaper and more people are using them. We should use more of them where it makes sense, like in places where it’s especially sunny or windy. And by installing special new power lines we could make even more use of solar and wind power.”
“Many of these ideas won’t work, but that’s okay. Each dead end will teach us something useful and keep us moving forward. As Thomas Edison famously said, ‘I have not failed 10,000 times. I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work’.”
In a separate interview to promote the letter with news agency Bloomberg, Gates provided more detail on how a global clean energy R&D push could be orchestrated and offered an insight into why he is so confident a breakthrough will materialise.
He also revealed the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is working on new investment approaches that would provide more “patient capital” than that offered by traditional venture capital funds, allowing for greater investment in long term R&D efforts.