A clean energy miracle: My challenge to Bill Gates | RenewEconomy

A clean energy miracle: My challenge to Bill Gates

There are only a few people in the world that could actually generate a true clean energy miracle and Bill Gates is one of them.

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Solar Wakeup

bill-gates-300x164In June, Bill Gates published an article on his site, gatesnotes, titled “We Need Energy Miracles.” Mr. Gates notes that much like breakthroughs in vaccines have helped create miracles, society needs to drastically increase the amount of spending on R&D in clean energy. Ironically, there are only a few people in the world that could actually generate a true clean energy miracle and Bill Gates is one of them.

Consider the scenario: A scientist develops a solar panel that is 50% efficient, dropping the cost per watt to under $0.30. A 60 cell module would generate close to 800 watts of power. Let’s say that the stability is there, the development and commercialization could cost billions of dollars. This research and development would be meaningless even if a blank check was offered to create such a product and build the factory.

Unlike vaccines, the R&D is not where all of the capital has to go. Energy is generated over decades whereas vaccines have a small per unit cost after R&D is completed. Energy needs long term capital investments way beyond the upfront costs of technology developments, even if the technology innovation qualifies as a miracle. Most of all, energy requires capital stability of the manufacturer that is producing the product to support the long-term nature of the project’s energy production.

Bill Gates is already investing in the R&D miracle, and has done so on multiple occasions, mainly in energy storage including Aquion and LightSail. Both investments were later stage technology investments and neither includes energy production. Not too bad for the richest man in the world, but definitely room for improvement. As some venture capitalists have learned and discussed, there is much to invest in earlier and downstream energy innovation.

In the next era of Bill Gates’ energy investments, it should include a fund to finance new technology projects. The projects should generate a small but positive IRR so that it is not a charity but akin to government backed loans. Instead the fund should ignore technology risk. Since Mr. Gates would be the funding source or major investor in the R&D miracle, it makes all the sense in the world that his project finance fund fully trust the technology.

Making a project finance fund agnostic to technology risk sounds insane for anyone in the finance business, especially if the project returns aren’t out of this world. But for someone like Bill Gates it means an attempt at creating a clean energy miracle. Therein lies the challenge to Mr. Gates. Invest billions in R&D, but allocate billions to a technology risk agnostic project fund, the miracle clean energy really needs.

Source: Solar Wakeup. Reproduced with permission.

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7 Comments
  1. Bob_Wallace 6 years ago

    Yann, perhaps you aren’t aware but the renewable energy miracle has already happened.

    Onshore wind is now the cheapest way to bring new electricity to the grid in the US. Solar is now in the number three position and should be vying for first place within a very few years.

    We have very promising storage technologies emerging from the lab. And tremendous effort is being put forth to invent even better methods. There are enormous fortunes to be made by the people who produce the best storage technology.

    We don’t need a Bill Gates miracle nor do we need a ‘black swan’ breakthrough. What we’ve got in hand is quite adequate for getting us to the 40% to 70% CO2 reduction point by 2050. What we need to do is to speed up our installation of what we have now.

    Of course better technology is always welcome, but it isn’t really required.

  2. Mike Shurtleff 6 years ago

    To add to what Bob has already said… I notice you indicate your miracle solar cell could bring the cost of Solar PV to 30c/W: “dropping the cost per watt to under $0.30”
    This is funny. Several companies are already targeting 40c/W for PV panel costs in the near future. I think it is generally accepted that Silicon Solar PV will drop below 50c/W for panel prices in the next few years. 50% efficiency at 30c/W might be a break-through, but 30c/W is already close.

  3. Mike Shurtleff 6 years ago

    btw Bill Gates also said Solar was “cute” at one point a short while back because it is not yet large enough to really contribute …in his opinion. He may be a genius manager and may know a lot about software. He does not understand enough about Solar PV energy. He does not understand that Solar PV is going to have a huge impact in a very short time because it is growing exponentially from that small base. This is very ironic considering where computer software was when he started and where it is now.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2014/07/22/exponential-growth-global-solar-pv-production-installation/ – July 2014
    “The Continuing Exponential Growth Of Global Solar PV Production & Installation”

  4. Zvyozdochka 6 years ago

    Gates is a good example of the effect of the nuclear boosters. He’s been distracted for years dabbling in dead-end nuclear efforts.

  5. Miles Harding 6 years ago

    The problem with tecchie solutions is that they mostly fail to address sustainability and actually increase consumption of scarce resources.

    The other side of the equation we don’t talk about much is the re-designing the consumer to have appropriate expectations and not make so many bad decisons when it comes to energy and more broadly sustainability.

    • Bob_Wallace 6 years ago

      OMG! We’re going to run out of sunshine????

  6. colin 6 years ago

    I wonder if Mr Gates has contemplated what the 4W of LED lighting per dwelling would do for the lifestyle of the avarage village where currently no electricity is available. Half a dozen 18650’s/dwelling as storage and maybe a 10W of panel/dwelling. … eminently scalable of course, but just 24hr of available light would be a huge breakthrough.

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