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Environment

Bill Gates Is Making a $1 Billion Bet on Clean Energy

Photo: Flickr/OnInnovation

It’s been a bad day, a bad week, and a bad month for environmentalists, who’ve awoken each day only to groan at the nomination of another fossil-fuel ally for the president-elect’s cabinet.

Today’s nomination of Rick Perry as Energy Secretary only added to their woes; the former Texas governor vowed to eliminate the EPA in his 2012 presidential run. It seems likely that, should he take the position, clean-energy research and development will have to look elsewhere for sponsorship.

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Enter Bill Gates, who this Monday launched a new billion-dollar environmental investment fund. Its objective, to “invest science focused, patient, and flexible capital” in clean energy, will pick up where the EPA might leave off, should Perry slash clean energy spending.

“Our goal is to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world," said Gates in a statement on Monday.

The fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) will kick off with $1 billion in capital to invest in transformative energy technologies and companies.

Which is a big number, to be sure, sourced from Gates and another 20 ultra-rich investors. The group’s collective net worth hovers around $170 billion, Quartz reported, a deep well of investment for what might well be a drought in years to come.

BEV plans to invest across five “Grand Challenges,” which are broad areas of C02-emitting human activity, that are then broken down into “Technical Quests,” or pathways of scientific research that will make a sizeable contribution to each overarching parent challenge.

So, for example, to solve the “Grand Challenge” of transportation, one “Technical Quest” is to develop low greenhouse gas (GHG) water transportation, while another is to put smart-tech to work on urban planning.

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Likewise, for the “Grand Challenge” of electricity, designing technology for re-capturing carbon dioxide from the air is another “Technical Quest” worth pursuing.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy, we’re open-minded to,” Gates told Quartz.


It’s clear thinking that will organize and streamline private sector innovation, appealing to both tech start-ups looking for a clear call-to action as well as investors who can get behind energy research with a profit-minded approach.

An approach that could even appeal to Trump himself. If the president-elect has had any clear stance on climate change, it’s to be found in his critique of a job-killing EPA.

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In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace this Sunday, Trump wrote off climate change science, “Nobody really knows,” he said, before adding, “I do know this: other countries are eating are lunch … we can’t let all of these permits that take forever to get stop our jobs.”

Of course, climate-change looks like an unprofitable distraction to a Trump agenda structured around profit margins, job-creation and energy independence.

But, think about it: at the end of the day, those are largely the same objectives that spur Gates’ forward-thinking fund, which estimates that the $6 trillion global energy market will soar to $8 trillion by 2040.

“It’s such a big market that the value — if you’re really providing a big portion of the world’s energy — the value will be super, super big,” said Gates.

The same objectives, and, surprisingly, some of the same diction, too.