Blog Post

Bill Gates: 3 Reasons Why the Feds Need to Fund Energy Innovation

Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft (s MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates has started looking at energy innovation through politics. Gates, who has started speaking more frequently on the importance of developing the next generation of energy technology from a technologist and an investor’s perspective, co-wrote a column in the Washington Post on Friday that calls for the U.S. government to invest significantly more money into energy innovation.

Specifically Gates used the column (co-written with former CEO and Chairman of DuPont’s Chad Holliday) to announce a new group that he’s joined called the American Energy Innovation Council, which is a group of business leaders that support energy innovation. The group will announce specific recommendations to enhance energy innovation in the coming months, according to the column, but for now Gates and Holliday gave these three reasons why developing energy technology is different than creating electronics innovation, and why energy technology needs much more federal funding. (We put Gates on our list of 25 Who Ditched Information Technology for Greentech).

1). Public Interest: Unlike generally with consumer electronics, there’s a strong public interest — including national security, economic health and environmental measures — to having more energy options. Society will benefit from a public commitment to energy innovation, while other technology will have more of an effect on — and can rely more on — the private-sector.

2). Capital Requirements Out of the Realm of Private Sector: A lot of the clean power investment needed just “does not compute for most companies,” says the column. For example, a new TV technology might cost $10 million to create, but can largely be built on current assembly lines, compared to a new clean power source that can cost several billion dollars to create and has a high risk of failure.

3). Slow Investment Cycles: Power companies invest in infrastructure at a much slower rate than the customers of electronics, broadband, and computing technology. The market for power technology is relatively small because power plants last 50 years and are cheap to run once built.

Image courtesy of Domain Barnyard’s photostream.

4 Responses to “Bill Gates: 3 Reasons Why the Feds Need to Fund Energy Innovation”

  1. Bill: Just read a superficial article on the travelling wave reactor (TWR) an interesting breeder reactor concept. I have no idea of the engineering challenges of control and getting the heat transferred to the energy producing side. However, I have always felt that the “old” molten salt breeser reactor(MSBR) concept was the ultimate breeder reactor with potential design features similar to TWR. However small MSBR reactors were built and demonstrated the principles. See Oak Ridge National Laboratory document ORNL-TM-1467 of 24 March 1966 entitled “Summary of Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor Studies(available on the web). Without knowing the details of TWR, it seems the many design parameters and goals available to a MSBR along with the existing real reactor data would make it more desirable than the TWR.
    PS: I am a “retired” nuclear engineer with long interests in MSBR (and wonderment as to why it was not being developed)and would appreciate a document source for why TWR is better if convenient and available. Thanks —-and any of a number of breeder reactor concepts have long been recognized as a highly desirable part of long -term energy solution(s).