Bill Gates Wants Clean, Cheap Energy Fast

BillGates wants clean, cheap energy more than he wants to pick the next 50years worth of presidents, even more than he wants a miracle vaccine.
At least that’s how he ranked his number one wish while describingclimate change as the world’s greatest challenge to a rapt audience atthe TED conference last week. Just weeks after lending his voice to a growing "innovation consensus" by writing on his blog, Gates Notes, that innovation, not just insulation, must be the focus if we are serious about "getting to zero," Gates’ TED speech expanded on what we need to get there:

"Weneed energy miracles. The microprocessor and internet are miracles.This is a case where we have to drive and get the miracle in a shorttimeline."

Gates emphasized the need for an energymiracle portfolio that includes carbon capture and storage and nuclearas well as wind and solar. According to CNN’s coverage of the conference(the video is not posted yet), Gates showed particular interest in thepotential for nuclear waste reprocessing as a source of clean, cheapenergy.

He also set 2050 as the deadline for reducingcarbon emissions to zero and outlined a tight innovation and deploymenttimeline: 20 years to innovate, 20 years to deploy.

The GatesFoundation typically invests its resources in issues related to publichealth and poverty, not climate change and energy, which is why Gates’unprecedented speech could be a game changer for two important reasons.

The first is that Gates has come to realize that the reducingthe carbon intensity of energy is the only feasible way to achieve azero-carbon world. In an article about Gates’ talk for AlterNet, Alex Steffen explains that Gates presented the following equation to explain how he arrived at this conclusion.

CO2 = Population x Services x Energy x Carbon

Steffendubs this the "Gates Climate Equation," though regular readers of thisblog will also recognize it as a simplification of the Kaya Identity,which looks like this:

Carbon emissions = Population x Per capita wealth x Energy intensity of the economy x Carbon intensity of energy

Whatever you call it, the conclusion is the same: in a world with increasing population that values greater economic growth, reducing carbon emissions means fueling development with clean energythat is cheaper than incumbent fossil fuels. As Gates has written,energy efficiency can help, but getting to zero carbon will requiremajor innovation if we want abundant carbon-neutral energy.

Thesecond reason why Gates’ opinions are so poignant, is that he defines aclear need for investment in clean technology innovation, notablyasserting that current technologies are not sufficient despite Al Gore,the main flag-bearer of the phrase, "We have all the technology weneed," being in attendance.

According to Gates:

"Allthe batteries we make now could store less than 10 minutes of all theenergy [in the world…So, in fact, we need a big breakthrough here.Something that’s going to be of a factor of 100 better than what wehave now."

As a respected innovator andphilanthropist, Gates’ opinions may help drive home an aspect of theclimate change/clean tech debate that is often underappreciated, or atleast, easily overlooked: scale.

We have grappled with the scaleof both the climate challenge and the energy challenge via our writingand admittedly, they both seem overwhelming. But while Gatesacknowledges that the solutions are complicated – clean technologyinnovation and implementation will not be easy, especially in such ashort time frame – the ultimate goal to overcome both challenges isclear: make clean energy cheap, and fast.

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute


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