Monday, August 15, 2016

What's Happening with Bill Gates' Multibillion-Dollar Energy Fund?

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates surrounded by President Obama and more than a dozen other world leaders announcing a global effort to double clean-energy research and development funding with a major side effort by private-sector billionaires. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia) Click to Enlarge.
Months have elapsed since the Microsoft Corp. co-founder and 27 other billionaires rolled out their Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) — a promise to invest billions of dollars with a very long payback horizon on groundbreaking new carbon-neutral technologies.  And the group has barely been heard from since.
Nineteen countries joined the United States in backing Mission Innovation in Paris, and the European Union signed on in June.  Since then, the Obama administration has followed up with a fiscal 2017 funding request of $7.7 billion for clean energy R&D across the federal government, with $5.9 billion of that going to DOE programs.

The U.S. government would need to increase its R&D budget to $12.8 billion in 2021 in order to remain on track to meet its Mission Innovation goals.

The governments participating in Mission Innovation have made their targets clear.  The 20 original members promised to devote $20 billion annually to R&D by 2020.  The group later increased its combined pledge to $30 billion annually by 2021.  While funding is dependent on continued political support in the United States and other countries, it will be fairly easy for third parties to track whether those pledges are met in the coming years.

Mission Innovation, which is composed of countries responsible for 90 percent of the world's energy R&D, has already publicly agreed to a governance structure and is in talks about ways to coordinate.
Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University and a former DOE assistant secretary, said Gates and his colleagues were wise to channel their support to technologies that are past the basic research phase but still not ready for commercialization.  It's a stage of development where limited support exists and dollars can go far, he said.

"They're trying to do something novel, and it doesn't surprise me that they're taking some time to put it together," Reicher said.

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