Billionaires Launch a Massive Clean Energy Fund, but Can the World Wait for Its Breakthroughs?
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Here’s some terrific news for early-stage energy entrepreneurs everywhere: a powerful group of investors wants to invest in your ideas.
Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Coalition, announced from the international climate talks in Paris this morning, is focusing on the “most transformative ideas” that are emerging out of research institutions—the ones that face the greatest “capital gap” between labs and commercialization.
Gates’s coalition reads like a Who’s Who of international billionaires, including Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Chinese business magnate Jack Ma, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani, and others. It’s a list of 25 of the richest people in the world, all committed to solving the biggest problem for early stage companies: the “valley of death” between promising idea and marketable product.
That valley is treacherous because most investors want quicker returns than early-stage energy companies have often been able to offer. The mega-investors, therefore, call for “a dramatically scaled-up public research pipeline, linked to a different kind of private investor with a long term commitment to new technologies who is willing to put truly patient flexible risk capital to work.”
Never mind the philanthropic overtones of today’s announcement, the investors could simply be making a good investment. (And nothing wrong with that.) As Gates says in a blog, the world is going to need 50% more energy by 2050 than today. Satisfying the demand should be lucrative, especially as the world starts to move away from the dirtiest energy sources like coal (even if, as Gates hopes, the price of energy actually falls over time).
As well as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, Gates also announced Mission Innovation, a commitment by 20 countries to spend more on clean energy research (target: to double it) and share technology. The countries include the U.S., India, Japan, Indonesia, and many in Europe. Currently, the U.S. spends about $5 billion on energy research compared to $70 billion on defense research.