July 6, 2015
The world’s richest man, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, has announced he is to double his personal investment in low-carbon and renewable energy technology to $2 billion. Even by the standards of someone as wealthy as old Bill, that’s a chunk of change. It shows just how serious he is when it comes to clean energy technology development.
In a recent interview, Gates said he plans to make the additional investment over the coming five years in the hope of developing “breakthrough” technologies.
Gates argues that current technologies are capable of addressing climate change only at a “beyond astronomical” cost. To address this, he’s putting his own cash up, having already invested directly in about 15 companies and indirectly in another 30 via venture capital funds. Explaining his investment strategy, Gates says: “The only way you can get to the very positive scenario is by great innovation. Innovation really does bend the curve.”
He also suggests that governments must invest much more – on the scale of a Manhattan or Apollo project – if technical breakthroughs are to be realised.
Putting Gates’ investment in context, globally governments reportedly provide around $6 billion per year in clean energy R&D investment.
“Most of the people you talk to would say that we should double or triple the amount of renewables R&D,” he says, encouraging “high-risk” investment in new technologies.
In the interview, Gates singles out novel nuclear power technologies, high altitude wind and solar power based on plant photosynthesis as three areas of interest.
“It’s classic capitalism. There’s some wild-eyed companies, but it’s great. I wish governments would help those guys out because there’s a 10% chance it’s the magic solution.”
“If I came and talked to you about software in the late 1970s, I would tell you: ‘Hey, somebody’s going to make a lot of money.’ Now there’s a tonne of software companies whose names will never be remembered… [but] if you happened to pick Microsoft, Apple or Google, you would have made lots of money.”
With Gates’ move coinciding with Google’s announcement of plans for a new generation of advanced urban technology, it seems as if the tech-savvy cash is lining up to take a stake in the emerging energy technology sector. It’s worth noting that both Google and Gates have got cash to burn, but it’s also true that there is an enormous opportunity in transforming the consumer relationship with energy – economic, environmental and social.
Simultaneously, technology development across a range of enabling platforms – such as the Internet of Things, big data, energy storage and renewables, transport and communications – suggests that a breakthrough with wide-scale application is imminent.