Bill Gates to establish €100 million clean energy fund with EU


Bill Gates and the European Commission have announced a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the establishment of Breakthrough Energy Europe (BEE).

The investment fund is directed at propelling European companies working on new clean energy technologies to market maturity. According to a statement made by the European Commission, the €100 million financial vehicle would be used to reduce greenhouse gases in electricity, transport, agriculture, manufacturing and buildings.

The commission said half of the equity will be sourced from the Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Coalition, with the other half from InnovFin, a European Investment Bank (EIB) financial tool operating to further the bloc’s Horizon 2020 ambitions. The commission says it expects the financial instrument to become operational in 2019.

“Europe must continue to take the lead in tackling climate change head on, at home and across the world. We must push for the modernization of Europe's economy and industry in order to meet the ambitious targets put in place to protect our planet.” Said EC President Jean-Claude Juncker. “Pooling public and private investment in new, innovative clean energy technology is key to enabling long-term solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If Europe is to have a future that can guarantee the wellbeing of all its citizens, it will need to be climate friendly and sustainable.”

Ultra low cost solar

Breakthrough Energy Europe is an extension of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which formed on the margins of the COP21 Paris Climate talks. With the Trump administration lowering expectations for a clean energy transition in the U.S., the coalition has pledged to invest $1 billion in new research and companies.

According to the investment strategy, companies with a sound business case, and that can attract investments other than from Breakthrough Energy Europe, would benefit. The fund would look into the novelty of the company it is investing in.

The backers say developed technologies that have already set foot in the energy market, would not need additional fostering. However, there are many companies working on radical approaches to decarbonizing industry in unheralded ways which may have been overlooked. Breakthrough Energy Europe will aim to give them a push.

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In its statute, the fund discloses that among its priorities is the development of “ultra-low-cost solar” among other sources of renewable energy.

Alternatives to lith-ion storage

The coalition acknowledges the great strides the solar industry has made to lower the LCOE of solar to $0.05/kWh and less in many places. But further ambitions are needed, according to Breakthrough, to compensate for storage costs and grid infrastructure investment. To that end, the coalition would invest in technologies that are in a “new generation of transformational technologies, beyond what we have today”.

In line with the EU’s plans to establish a world-leading market for battery production lines, the coalition also aims to foster energy storage research and development. In this vein, the European Commission recently published a report evaluating various alternatives to lithium-ion batteries – for electrochemical storage – highlighting the importance of harmonizing climate ambitions, and the social and environmental impacts of the use of new technologies.

Which technologies will benefit from the fund will be seen in the months to come. The cost trajectories of solar and storage imply, however, current technologies are on the right path to grid parity, with subsidy-free PV plants coming online at the moment.

A study released by DNV GL a few weeks back, suggested costly grid infrastructure investments – cited by fossil fuel lobbysists as a reason clean energy is not viable – may occur not due to the increased penetration of renewable energy, but because of a simple growth of electricity demand. That would mean such costly infrastructure upgrades would also be required in a fossil fuel-based energy system.

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