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Bill Gates: The lack of energy funding is crazy

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Bill Gates told an audience of energy entrepreneurs, scientists and investors at the ARPA-E energy conference on Tuesday that “It’s crazy how little we’re funding energy.” Energy research is underfunded by a factor of two, Gates said, referring to the amount of current U.S. government investment in energy research.

Underfunding energy research means there is a higher risk that we won’t be able to deliver the needed energy breakthroughs, said Gates. Gates pointed out that funding basic research naturally has a high failure rate: Potentially 90 percent of the projects in ARPA-E won’t make a dent in the future of energy technology, he said. “Look at the battery companies [at ARPA-E], and if you can find the one out of ten that will breakthrough, then great, go invest in it,” said Gates.

But the high failure rate is why we “literally need thousands of these companies to try this,” in order to get a dramatic solution, said Gates. Gates also noted that he thought the IT revolution has “morphed people’s minds” about how fast progress can be delivered. The energy revolution will be much slower than the IT revolution, said Gates.

Gates has expressed similar sentiments before. He is part of the American Energy Innovation Council, which about two years ago called for a government investment of $16 billion per year into basic research to deliver energy innovation. Since that foundation launched, he has said that he has been stunned that the government hasn’t been able to rise to the occasion.

Gates, seated next to Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, acknowledged that Chu’s hands have been tied for now, in terms of getting a larger budget for the DOE to spend on energy research. In an election year, clean energy (through Solyndra) has become a political issue. President Obama maintained part of the current levels of funding for clean energy and energy efficiency research in the recent budget proposal, including calling for $350 million for the ARPA-E program.

Photo from previous talk of Bill Gates

19 Responses to “Bill Gates: The lack of energy funding is crazy”

  1. What we need is an innovation so phenomenal that it can not be ignored or killed. That innovation is called “Lighting In A Bottle”
    Imagine never having to “Ever” plug in to anything for electricity and you will understand the this game changing innovation. Then Imagine it costing a flat fee that doesn’t go up or down.

    Innovating without greed has its advantages. It frees the mind to see a universe of possibilities where there exist “No Box”.

    Can’t understand this, then visit my website to learn about another game changer in renewable energy that the US Gov’t refused to fund, instead choosing Syndra Solar.

  2. RKM Enterprises

    We need to drill more oil in U.S along with developing alternatives. More U.S oil will buy time until we have a breakthru in alternative energy

  3. Betz’s Law describes the fact that no wind turbine can capture more than 59.3% of the kinetic energy in wind. The power coefficient of a wind turbine is the ratio of maximum power obtained to the total power available in the wind. (Betz’s Coefficient; the maximum fraction of the power in a wind stream that can be extracted. 0.593.)

    Wonder if private capital will come out of the woodwork if a new innovation for wind energy capture comes to light, with the following criteria being a part of its marketing enhancements?

    A unit able to process thirty times and more of a stream of wind as opposed to propellers (all things being equal (swept area (area of circle inscribed by the propeller tips being equal to the cross – section of such a new innovation unit)) and similar wind circumstance, for comparison.

    Exhibits the ability to bump up to near the Betz’s Coefficient, with THIRTY TIMES the volume that the same swept – area sized propeller windmills are capable of.

    Quiet operation. Dual turbo – shaft drives.

    Robust and reliable, fabricated from conventional materials, with standard deployment and installation methods. VERY low maintenance requirements.

    Inherent safety built – in, with only a small percentage of rotating parts visible. Operationally capable of working in far higher wind flows than the current commercial offerings on the market. Governor – guarded to maximum RPM Design, with efficiency – reducing features coming into play at excess wind flow.

    Virtually avian – friendly (birds, bats, indigenet wild – life populations).

    Lends itself to standardized mass – manufacturing, scalable to all sizes, residential, to high – rise and out to Wind Farm units.

    Omni – directional, tracks the wind; anti – icing an option.

    Has the potential to be approved by Urban Planning Departments throughout the nation (i.e., safely, inside city limits). (“Stealth” installations, for public acceptance.)

    Has the capability for driving much more than generators for specific users (air compressors, freon compressors, water pumps, as well as generators for electricity).

    Has the potential out on the Wind Farms to permit Design – per – MegaWatt costs for constructing a utility plant project for small percentages of that required with the current standard of installations. Will not require government – subsidized per kW of electrical power output as is needed with the current offerings.

    Has the potential for becoming the “Windows” (as in computers) of Wind Energy Capture machines.

    The question was, “Wonder if private capital would come out of the woodwork” if such an innovation should appear on the horizon?

    I am about to find out. I just recently received a patent for that very concept from the U.S.Patent Office (three year effort with collaborating very select team. I have just completed a marketing program for seeking an equity / Research and Development Partner to prove efficiencies and bring it to commercialization (perhaps with the likes of Pratt & Whitney, GE, Trane or similar).

    (This is a test. I anticipate the responses I may receive to be fun, instructive and perhaps otherwise helpful. Be gentle.) If you are reading this column, you must be interested in Renewable Energy.

  4. Susan Kraemer

    “In an election year, clean energy (through Solyndra) has become a political issue. ” Solyndra was just their ginned-up excuse. Republicans have voted against clean energy and for fossil giveaways since they voted against Al Gore’s BTU tax in 1993. There is nothing new about their position.

  5. Odile Beniflah

    Good point: the energy revolution will be much slower than the IT revolution. So in the meantime, let’s use our existing infrastructure better, starting with cars for transport. Let’s share them!

  6. Hey Bill, sounds like a very philanthropist opportunity for you since you’re trying to give all that money away. Wouldn’t that be a better legacy for you than Windows?

    • Shawn Behnam

      Wouldn’t his money be more useful in energy investment? Isn’t this dilemma the most pressing of our time which is practically intertwined with every other issue in our world?

  7. James Hancock

    Bill Gates used to be a very informed man that understood the evils of government as evidenced by his testimony at the Microsoft anti-trust trial.

    For some reason he’s ignoring that education now.

    The reason why there is no investment in energy is because:

    1. It’s a government controlled sector. You have to get permission from the government to do anything, and the government is bought and paid for by the companies already in the energy sector through their lobbying actions. Thus it’s basically impossible to do anything in the energy sector without government involvement and OK which means billions of dollars and years of ass kissing to get it to go through and even then it will cost 10x what it should cost to do it. Thus the risk is way to high to bother investing only to be in a sector that will never allow major game changers to occur and thus the return is way to low for the risk.

    2. The government is involved in investing in this sector. They’re investing 100s of millions if not billions in their chosen winners and losers in the space. Private investment cannot compete and given that the government is doing the investing to their friends, see #1. The ones that they put money into are the ones that are going to get OKed for development.

    These are 10x truer in the nuclear space for small nukes etc. that Bill Gates has been pushing.

    So the shock and frustration that Bill Gates is expressing is just silly. It’s completely known why there is no investment and no innovation in the energy market and the only solution that would solve that isn’t going to happen because there are too many vested interests in the government run and controlled energy sector to ever let that change.

    Only a complete deregulation of the energy sector, i.e. allowing competition in energy creation and delivery without permits from the government, and allowing companies to charge what the market will bear instead of what some panel oks will open up the energy sector and make it competitive. Until then we have price fixing government style with crony capitalism at work. Competition is not allowed and thus no investment will occur.

    But Obama thinks that the problem can be solved by more government intervention. Sorry but no the problem is government.

    Bill Gates: Get a clue. Everyone else lobby your senators and congressmen to deregulate the market. Your power will be just as reliable, but in a few years it will be 1/10th the cost it is now.

    (And before someone brings up the BP oil spill as an example of what happens with deregulation, don’t bother. BP oil happened because the government wouldn’t OK near shore drilling for no reason thus increasing the risk, and then to get companies to drill deep they had to put in a liability cap to convince them to drill. This liability cap created moral hazard because the cost of doing it right was higher than the cost to BP if something went wrong. Thus they cut corners. Who enabled this? Government. If the government deregulated and allowed liability to be set in court, then there would be no deep field oil drilling because it’s too risky, and there would be near shore oil drilling off of every shoreline in the US. Thus BP proves my point!)

    • James Hancock

      dg: read my comment. It doesn’t matter what material you use, it won’t pay for itself because of government interference in the market. They literally won’t let their buddies have to compete so no new energy company will succeed as a result and the cost is enormous. It works just like the FDA with the same results.

    • metamemetics

      Bill already funds Thorium research which he is selling to China. He is trying to convince the US to spend more so his investments can profit off of taxpayers, seemingly unaware their is a massive defecit in the US.