Beyond COP21: The Power of Bill Gates’ New Energy Fund
With international leaders at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21), Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates made a major announcement to push progress further. In conjunction with a group of like-minded philanthropists, he announced the Breakthrough Energy Fund to support clean energy innovation for decades to come.
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an initiative that Gates leads, includes a number of philanthropists and tech luminaries, such as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma. According to Gates, the Breakthrough Energy Fund will back cleantech research and development to “help companies get clean energy innovation out of the lab and into the marketplace.”
You don’t have to be an inventor to appreciate the importance of the Breakthrough Energy Fund announcement. The fund, aimed at supporting research and development of new and early stage cleantech companies, will fill a major gap in the current innovation cycle.
While we already have a number of excellent technologies available, some have not fully infiltrated the market. Others are prohibitively expensive for wide-scale commercial use. The Breakthrough Energy Fund will narrow the gap between the lab and the market while shedding light on the importance of the growing cleantech industry.
The gap threatening cleantech is commonly known as the “clean energy valley of death.” According to a Breakthrough Institute report, the valley of death has two elements: technological and commercialization. During the development of technology, innovators need large amounts of capital to perfect their technologies and prove viability to funders. The report explains, “bringing innovative energy research to its pre-deployment phase requires significant capital and as much as 10-15 years’ time.” The risk and long wait discourage investors from helping new innovations to compete with the energy incumbents.
The second half of the market gap that continues to hinder cleantech innovations exists between validated pilots and scalable products. Cleantech requires more funding than most innovations for the demonstration and launch phases. Clearly, the Breakthrough Energy Fund will be critical in bridging the wide gaps that challenge cleantech innovators, startups, and entrepreneurs, who should all be thrilled about the fund’s announcement.
At 1776’s special energy event, U.S. Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, explained the urgency of corrective action. I was privileged to be on the energy event’s panel, and we discussed surpassing the “two-degree limit for destruction” that is likely to happen in the next 30 years. According to a special report by The Economist, we have already surpassed the point of no return for irreparable damage to the ecosystem. In the report, Gates said,
“It’s nice for people to talk about two degrees, but we don’t even have the commitments that are going to keep us below four degrees of warming.”
The question is no longer about how can we stop climate change but rather how can we mitigate the impending effects.
Luckily, innovators are already working to solve the mounting environmental problems. We’re seeing newer and better innovations every day. As we continue to develop more effective, more efficient, and more affordable technologies, we’re taking bigger steps toward making zero-carbon energy production and use a reality. Although deployment of even the best cleantech has been difficult, I’m confident that, with the help of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, we can implement cleantech to help us help ourselves out of the mess we’ve made.
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is extremely exciting and a testimony to the importance of clean energy technology. In the next 15 years, we will achieve unprecedented progress in the development and deployment of cleantech, and with the Breakthrough Energy Fund, the clean energy movement will only accelerate.