In their annual open Gates Foundation letter Bill and Melinda Gates revealed their plans to inspire innovation in new technologies for tackling climate change, energy policy, and gender inequality.
Bill’s portion of the letter, which is addressed directly to teenagers he argues there should be a world-wide policy to deliver clean energy to the 1.3 billion people across the globe who do not have access to power.
He also states that the energy generation should be low carbon to tackle the risks presented by climate change. “If we really want to help the world’s poorest families, we need to find a way to get them cheap, clean energy,” he writes. “Cheap because everyone must be able to afford it. Clean because it must not emit any carbon dioxide – which is driving climate change.”
He follows that by maintaining that the ultimate goal would be to produce energy with zero carbon emissions. Can’t we just aim to cut carbon emissions in half?’ I asked many scientists, but they all agreed that wouldn’t be enough. The problem is that CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for decades. Even if we halted carbon emissions tomorrow, the temperature would still rise because of the carbon that’s already been released. No, we need to get all the way down to zero.
“New green technologies are allowing the world to produce more carbon-free energy from solar and wind power,” he writes. “Maybe you live near a wind farm or have seen solar panels near your school. It’s great that these are getting cheaper and more people are using them. We should use more of them where it makes sense, like in places where it’s especially sunny or windy. And by installing special new power lines we could make even more use of solar and wind power.
“We need more powerful, more economical solutions. In short we need an energy miracle. When I say “miracle,” I don’t mean something that’s impossible. I’ve seen miracles happen before; the personal computer, the internet, the polio vaccine. None of them happened by chance. They are the result of research and development and the human capacity to innovate.”
Citing combination of private sector research and development, such as his recently launched Energy Breakthrough Coalition, government action, and individual endeavour Gates argues that the right combination can deliver a new generation of clean energy technologies.
“We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas-even ones that might sound a little crazy-if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of this century,” he said. “New ways to make solar and wind power available to everyone around the clock could be one solution. Some of the crazier inventions I’m excited about are a possible way to use solar energy to produce fuel, much like plants use sunlight to make food for themselves, and batteries the size of swimming pools with huge storage capacity.
“Many of these ideas won’t work, but that’s okay. Each dead end will teach us something useful and keep us moving forward. As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
Gates also urged young people to engage with the energy challenge. “You may be wondering what you can do to help,” he wrote. “First, it’s important for everyone to get educated about this energy challenge. Many young people are already actively involved in climate and energy issues and I’m sure they could use more help. Your generation is one of the most globally minded in history, adept at looking at our world’s problems beyond national borders. This will be a valuable asset as we work on global solutions in the decades ahead.
“Second, if you’re someone with some crazy-sounding ideas to solve our energy challenge, the world needs you. Study extra hard in your math and sciences. You might just have the answer.”
In a separate interview with Bloomberg promoting the letter he provided more detail on how a global clean energy R&D push could be orchestrated and offered an insight into why he is so confident a breakthrough will materialise.
“What we need to get that probability up to be very high is to take 12 or so paths to get there,” he told the news agency. “Like carbon capture and sequestration is a path. Nuclear fission is a path. Nuclear fusion is a path. Solar fuels are a path. For every one of those paths, you need about five very diverse groups of scientists who think the other four groups are wrong and crazy.”
At the end of the interview he confirmed that the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is working on new investment models that could offer more “patient capital” than that by traditional venture capital funds potentially leading to greater investment in the long term.
In related news the UK Chancellor George Osbourne’s autumn statement pledge of £500 million of funds to be allocated for green innovation could launch the UK as a world-leader in energy generation, if the money is spent in key areas such as wave and tidal energy, low-carbon heat and energy storage according to Scottish Renewables.
Hannah Smith policy officer at Scottish Renewables said “Our renewable energy industry has come a long way since the first hydropower and wind projects of the 19th Century, due in no small part to the impressive list of technical and engineering innovations coming out of the UK.
“We welcome the Chancellor’s recent commitment to continue this by doubling Decc’s innovation programme budget. We believe developing an Energy Innovation Strategy to guide this investment would get the most out of every pound spent.
“Government is in a unique position to mobilise a variety of resources and agencies, creating the right landscape for innovation to occur. This would lay the foundations for British businesses developing innovative products and services to flourish.
Scottish Renewables, which is also calling for half of all energy used in Scotland to come from renewables by 2030, published this new report to examine the future of Britain’s energy system across electricity, heat and transport.
The report highlights six key priority areas for the £500 million innovation funding: –
Wave and tidal energy – at which the UK already leads the world, Scottish Renewables says, with facilities like the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney providing cutting-edge test opportunities.
Storage technologies – which can enable increased renewables capacity (by storing electricity at times of low demand) and provide a multitude of services to the management of our electricity system, as well as empowering communities and consumers.
Floating offshore wind – which could open huge areas of the world’s deepest oceans to green energy generation. The UK is eyeing a global lead already, and funds invested on innovation could cement that advantage.
Low-carbon heat – which accounts for 46 per cent of UK energy demand, but of which only 4.9 per cent was renewable in 2014. Decarbonising the sector will mean fully developing new technologies, supporting their large-scale deployment and integrating them into our wider energy system, according to Scottish Renewables.
Systems integration – thinking about our heat, transport and electricity sectors as one system will allow us to be ‘smarter’ in the way we use power and drive efficiencies, increase security and reduce costs.
Flexible networks – could, according to the Committee on Climate Change, help save consumers up to £3.5 billion per year. Securing the technology to deliver what the CCC call “a more flexible power system” will require a range of technologies such as Active Network Management, demand-side response, storage and increased interconnection, all of which are yet to be fully developed.
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd last month pledged to “light the fire” of energy innovation in 2016, by ramping up investment in research, development and demonstration (RD&D).
“We don’t have all the answers for decarbonisation,” Rudd said at an event in London. “We must develop technologies that are both green and cheap. Costs of clean energy and clean transport must continue to fall.
“The UK has strong capabilities in R&D and we have been responsible for some amazing steps forward, but we need to do better and we need to be smarter. We need to breathe new life into the research, development, demonstration and deployment cycle.”
Innovation is crucial in creating a clean secure energy future and we are heartened by the stance taken by Bill Gates. A true innovator when he speaks entire generations listen. His focus on renewable energy will hopefully inspire many of today’s up and coming innovators to concentrate on this.
Renewable energy generation has come a long way with technology becoming more advanced and less expensive but with grid and location restrictions hampering further expansion new innovations are needed in order to continue growth and in turn reduce our carbon emissions.
If we are to reduce our carbon emissions to zero then our future energy security depends on new innovative technologies and the more the better. The Gates Foundation Breakthrough Energy Coalition and the UK government’s £500m green innovation pledge will go some way in helping to achieve this.