Bill Gates launches EU clean energy ‘breakthrough’ fund in Brussels

Microsoft founder and chairman of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Bill Gates during a signing ceremony at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 17 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/Stephanie Lecocq]

The newly-established €100 million fund will help innovative European companies bring “radically new” clean energy technologies to the market, including the “holy grail” of batteries, the European Commission said.

Bill Gates, the founder and former CEO of Microsoft now turned philanthropist, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday (17 October) to establish the joint fund, called “Breakthrough Energy Europe”.

With a capitalisation of €100 million, the European fund is smaller than Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), a $1 billion investor-led fund chaired by Bill Gates, which aims “to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world.”

In fact, half of the equity will come from Breakthrough Energy while the other half  will come from InnovFin, a risk-sharing financial instrument funded through Horizon 2020, the EU’s current research and innovation programme.

BEV has made about 20 investments since it was launched in December 2016, “but so far it has been fairly US-centric,” Gates admitted. “So here we’re going to add a lot of European-based investments,” he told the press in Brussels.

“Europe’s leadership” on climate change “is more important today than ever,” Gates said, citing areas such as steelmaking and fertilisers where there was great potential to decrease emissions significantly.

In Brussels, Michael Bloomberg praises EU drive for green finance

Capital markets are “one of the most powerful tools in the fight against climate change” which is often “overlooked”, said billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, praising Europe’s pioneering green finance action plan presented earlier this month.

Gates said Europe had leading companies in what he called “the industrial economy” and the agricultural sector, which are big emitters of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

The European Commission, for its part, said the innovative part of the new fund will reside in the “high-risk investments” in which public institutions are typically not involved.

“We want private investors to have much more say in what should be funded with this money. Because very often they can be much faster to make decisions,” said Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the Energy Union.

“The holy grail is energy storage,” Šefčovič admitted, saying batteries and other storage solutions were needed not just to decarbonise transport and energy but also for industrial cycles like steel production.

Blossoming batteries boosted by EU plan

Batteries and storage are set to become even more important as electro-mobility and renewable energy go from strength to strength. That is why EU efforts are meant to help the burgeoning industry compete against the likes of China and electric carmaker Tesla.

Gates said he had personally invested money into a number of battery companies, “some of which are still in business, some which are not,” something he said underscores the need to take risks in areas with high-growth potential.

To address climate change, Breakthrough Energy Ventures says emissions must be reduced in five key sectors of the economy – electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings.

To do that, it mapped out a “landscape of innovation”, with a list of 55 “technical quests” where research and innovation can bring the world closer to an emission-free future.

Clean energy innovation: How Europe can make a real difference

Public-private partnerships are vital to achieving the leap forward, deploying new clean technologies at scale and fast, writes Maroš Šefčovič.

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