Bill Gates Doubles Down on Breakthrough Renewable Energy Investments

Bill Gates says he will double investments in breakthrough technologies that can scale renewable energy so that it can fully replace fossil fuels. 

He’s already spent about $1 billion to help 30 start-ups get off the ground, believing that only "great innovation" can bend the curve, he told Financial Times. We need "miracle" technologies – on the order of the automobile – to prevent climate catastrophe, he says.

Bill Gates

Technologies that have promise include high-altitude wind power, solar harnessed and stored through artificial photosynthesis, and nuclear that runs on depleted uranium, for example. He’s been investing in geoengineering technologies.

Some companies Gates backs:

  • Varentec makes grid optimization software that provides the "eyes, brain and muscle" to enable real-time management of the power network.
  • TerraPower is developing "traveling" nuclear reactors that run on recycled uranium and produce little nuclear waste.
  • LightSail Energy: megawatt-scale energy storage products that are based on the "most humble, but most available and lowest-cost material – air."  

Gates has been urging the federal government to spend much more on research and development, saying we need a Manhattan Project and Apollo Project – that will make the US the leader in energy technology innovation. One manifestation of that is ARPA-E and DOE’s Energy Hubs.

In an interview with Rolling Stone on climate change, Gates says he’s optimistic because he sees the world as a giant operating system that just needs to be debugged. The idea that animates his life is that the code for these problems can be rewritten and  errors can be fixed. "Huge systems – whether it’s Windows 8, global poverty or climate change – can be improved if you have the right tools and the right skills. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is like a giant startup whose target market is human civilization."

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