COP21: Coalition of billionaires, 20 governments pledge increased clean energy investment

Perhaps taking to heart the findings of the recent Friends of the Earth report, which concluded that the wealthiest 782 people could afford to power over half the world with renewables, Bill Gates today introduced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition at the Paris climate talks.

A total of 28 parties, including Jeff Bezos, Amazon, HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, Richard Branson, Virgin, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, have pledged to invest funds in clean energy projects in order to finance energy that is "reliable, affordable and does not produce carbon."

The website states, "The only way to accomplish that goal is by developing new tools to power the world … The existing system of basic research, clean energy investment, regulatory frameworks, and subsidies fails to sufficiently mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future. We can’t wait for the system to change through normal cycles."

Overall, the coalition has identified five principles under which it will invest:

  • Invest early – seed, angel and series A investments;
  • Invest broadly – electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial use, agriculture and energy system efficiency;
  • Invest boldly – both novel technologies and innovations in current ones;
  • Invest wisely – receive guidance from experts on investment areas; and
  • Invest together – collaborate with Mission Innovation, a union of 20 governments

Over the next 12 months, the coalition is looking to identify investment opportunities, create appropriate financing mechanisms and expand its community of investors. It has already identified three "promising" research areas: solar chemical (using solar energy to create fuel); flow batteries; and solar paint.

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition aims to work alongside Mission Innovation, a group of 20 governments from countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, the U.K., the UAE and the U.S., which have pledged to double investment in clean energy innovation over the next five years. Bill Gates pointed out that the U.S. Government spends more on energy R&D than any other country. In 2013, its ratio of R&D to total spending in energy was 0.4% (compared to 11% for defense).

By working together, Gates believes businesses and governments can transform the global energy landscape, away from hydrocarbons to a clean energy future. "The work needs to start immediately," he said. "The history of energy transitions is clear: It takes years to develop new sources of energy, and decades to make them a significant part of our energy mix. Today, renewables account for less than 5 percent of the world’s energy. It took four decades for oil to go from 5 percent of the world’s energy supply to 25 percent. Natural gas took even longer.

"I believe we can make this transition faster, both because the pace of innovation is accelerating, and because we have never had such an urgent reason to move from one source of energy to another."