We need an energy miracle, says Bill Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates
CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia

In recent years, Philanthropist billionaire Bill Gates has been focusing his efforts and massive fortune to tackling some of the world's toughest problems. His foundation is primarily working on healthcare, especially for the poorest people on the planet, and education. But he has also been investing a lot of his own money into ventures that could help fight global warming, an environmental issue that he's been very vocal about. He has pledged at least $2 billion to energy R&D, and he's trying to convince governments that they should increase how much they spend there too (the United States government spends about $6 billion a year, which is small compared to the size of the energy industry in the country -- Gates thinks they should at least triple that to $18 billion).

Gates recently did an epic interview with The Atlantic on the topic of energy and climate change. It will appear in their November print issue. Here are a few choice excerpts, but you should really read the whole thing:

On why the free market won’t develop new forms of energy fast enough:

Well, there’s no fortune to be made. Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems, like “Okay, what do you do with coal ash?” and “How do you guarantee something is safe?” Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.

Bill Gates drawingYoutube/Gates Notes/Screen capture

On whether we should all be driving electric cars:

People think, Oh, well, I’ll just get an electric car. There are places where if you buy an electric car, you’re actually increasing CO2 emissions, because the electricity infrastructure is emitting more CO2 than you would have if you’d had a gasoline-powered car.

This is exactly why I always mention that electric cars are not enough on their own, but that we must also clean up the power grid. But to put what Gates said in context, it is true that in some cases EVs can be worse than gasoline vehicles, but these are edge cases. Few places are 100% powered by old coal plants, and few EVs are charged a peak time (most are charged at night). We should also keep in mind that a gasoline car will at best stay the same over its lifetime (in fact, over the years it gets more polluting as it ages) while an EV should get better over time as the grid gets cleaner.


On what it will take to accelerate the transition from carbon-emitting energy:

When people viewed cancer as a problem, the U.S. government—and it’s a huge favor to the world—declared a war on cancer, and now we fund all health research at about $30 billion a year, of which about $5 billion goes to cancer. We got serious and did a lot of R&D, and then we got the private sector involved in taking that R&D and building breakthrough drugs.

In energy, no government—including the U.S., which is in almost every category the big R&D funder—has really made a dramatic increase. It was increased somewhat under Carter and then cut back under Reagan, and it’s now about $6 billion a year—that’s the U.S. piece, which, compared with the importance to our economy in general, is too low.

Here's the whole thing.

Tags: Energy | Renewable Energy


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