The wealthiest man in the world, Bill Gates, will announce on Monday a massive private-government partnership for a new clean energy research fund. This is reportedly the biggest research and development fund for clean energy ever, which will funnel billions to support innovation in this section. The precise details of the multi-billion partnership will be revealed once with the opening of the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris.
According to ClimateWire, the governments involved in the partnership — including the United States and India — will agree to double their research and development budgets for clean energy and form a coalition to conduct joint work. Private companies will also pledge resources to support the initiative. This, of course, includes Bill Gates’ money as well.
Earlier this summer, Gates said he would invest $1 billion in researching and deploying clean energy technology. The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation is already funding quite a few projects that aim to address energy problems – especially in the developed world. Some of Gates’ funded projects were covered by ZME Science, like the Omniprocessor that turns sludge into electricity and pure, clean water or the solar power toilets.
Sources close to Gates, however, report that Gates will actually invest a lot more than one billion. Other billionaires, inspired by Gates, might soon follow in his footsteps if they haven’t already. The hype is in full swing, and this partnership does indeed sound ground breaking.
“It’s spectacular what public research and development has created in this country. You cannot name a single technology that hasn’t had a huge boost [from public funding],” said Hal Harvey, chief executive of clean energy consultancy Energy Innovation. Noting clean energy is a $5 trillion market, Harvey added, “We’re not going to be in it if we don’t decide R&D is one of our core strengths.”
Indeed, there’s a great deal of technology that’s been born out of gov-funded labs, particularly the military. The fact of the matter is energy corporations are for-profit, and with the notable exceptions of a couple visionary leaders in their fields, these companies will always be behind the wave as far as fundamental research is involved. Their expertise and market-orientated approach is great to help renewable energy grow vertically, and helps scale the technology on an incremental basis. If we really want to make great leaps forward, though, this requires a lot of money funneled into research with no immediate expectation for a return of investment.
The timing of the announcement sends a clear signal for action against global warming, just in time to support COP 21 – the United Nations summit where world leaders will pledge to reduce or cap their greenhouse gas emissions.
“[..] we need innovation that gives us energy that’s cheaper than today’s hydrocarbon energy, that has zero CO2 emissions, and that’s as reliable as today’s overall energy system. And when you put all those requirements together, we need an energy miracle. That may make it seem too daunting to people, but in science, miracles are happening all the time,” Bill Gates said in an interview.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot