Bill Gates's new private-public push seeks clean energy innovation

Bill Gates is working on clean energy solutions through Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a private group of billionaire investors, and the Mission Innovation, a public group of over 20 countries committed to doubling government investments in clean energy.

Christophe Ena/AP
Bill Gates, philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, attends a conference at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. He has leading roles in the formation of multiple groups dedicated to investing in clean energy.

As world leaders travel to Paris for the start of the United Nations climate talks, or COP21, (covered here by The Christian Science Monitor), Bill Gates is kicking off initiatives in both the public and private sphere to fund clean energy innovation and help combat climate change.

On Monday, Mr. Gates and a group of dozens of billionaires launched The Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC), a private collective  aimed at committing private sector financial resources to clean energy. The group will provide a push to clean energy technology byinvesting in early-stage energy programs. 

Additionally, Mr. Gates and President Barack Obama on Monday announced a public-sector jolt for clean energy through a multi-billion-dollar and multi-country initiative entitled Mission Innovation. The initiative is a pledge by over 20 countries to double government investments in clean energy over the next five years.

Combining public and private approaches to clean energy investments is seen as crucial for spurring innovation and addressing climate change.

“The urgency of climate change and the energy needs in the poorest parts of the world require an aggressive global program for zero-emission energy innovation,” the BEC website  reads. “The new model will be a public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors.” 

The announcement of Mission Innovation was timed to coincide with the Paris climate talks and double down on global commitment to addressing climate change and creating clean energy. The participating countries in the initiative – which include China, India, Brazil, and France, among others – contribute about 75 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions and more than 80 percent of global clean energy research and development investments, according to a Department of Energy statement.

The 20 Mission Initiative countries collectively contribute $10 billion to clean energy, with the US spending $5 billion annually.  Participating members have pledged to double that amount over the next five years, according to the Mission Innovation launch statement. Much of that spending will focus on funding research and development.

"More capital at the early stage is going to drive the breakthroughs that will drive costs down," said Brian Deese, Obama's senior adviser on climate change, to reporters in Washington.

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition will likewise invest in early-stage programs, focusing on areas where government spending is not effective. One area of specific interest is the gap between the stages of concept and product. The private sector will also contribute knowledge on “how to build companies, evaluate the potential for success, and take the risks that lead to innovation,” according to the BEC website.

The group of private investors, which includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, has not yet released how much it will be investing.

The announcements of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and Mission Innovation follow Mr. Gates’s personal commitment to invest $1 billion to clean energy causes over the next five years.

"Private companies will ultimately develop these energy breakthroughs, but their work will rely on the kind of basic research that only governments can fund," Gates said in a statement.

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