Bill Gates announces the ‘Breakthrough Energy Coalition’

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder turned philanthropist, in Brussels last year. [European Commission]

As COP21 opened in Paris today (30 November), Bill Gates announced the “Breakthrough energy coalition” uniting the efforts of two dozens of other billionaire philanthropists such as Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos to sponsor energy that doesn’t produce carbon.

Gates will be present in Paris together with US President Barack Obama, the White House reported to be familiar and supportive of the initiative.

Nineteen governments, including the United States, China and India, will join in a “Mission Innovation” initiative that commits governments to a doubling of public investments in basic energy research over the next five years, Obama administration officials quoted by the Washington Post said.

The 19 countries that signed up for the initiative include the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and collectively represent more than 80% of current global spending on energy research. In addition to the United States, China and India, the group includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

“Given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths, and that means we also need to invent new approaches,” Gates said.

The model proposed by the rich sponsors is a public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors, the overarching idea being that technology can help solve the world’s energy issues. The initiative has a strong focus on developing countries.

Current governmental funding levels for clean energy are simply insufficient to meet the challenges before us, and government research in not enough either, the Coalition has found.

The philanthropists therefore decide to play the “business angels”, as the current business environment is unlikely to draw the necessary financing.

“We will form a network of private capital committed to building a structure that will allow informed decisions to help accelerate the change to the advanced energy future our planet needs,” they write on the initiative’s website.

“We will focus on early stage companies that have the potential of an energy future that produces near zero carbon emissions and provides everyone with affordable, reliable energy,” the philanthropists state.

Three energy solutions

CNBC wrote that three energy solutions excite Bill Gates. Those are solar chemical technology, flow batteries and solar paint.

Solar chemical technology essentially uses solar energy to create hydrogen, which can be used as fuel or for commercial purposes, such as making fertilizer.

The second idea, a flow battery, could redefine how we store electricity. By utilizing a rechargeable liquid electrolyte inside two pairs of tanks, flow batteries are much more sustainable than lithium-ion batteries, which is the current gold standard for electricity storage.

The purpose behind solar paint is to make solar power easier to install. Maintaining solar panels in an average household can be expensive so by finding a light-sensitive dye that can generate electricity, consumers can transform any surface of their house into a solar panel by simply painting it.

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