Bill Gates and investors inject $1bn into Breakthrough Energy fund

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has rallied together a team of executives from some of the world's biggest companies in order to pledge a $1bn fund to accelerate the uptake of clean energy technologies.

Gates unveiled the Breakthrough Energy Ventures on Monday (12 December) and has enlisted the expertise of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba chairman Jack Ma, Virgin’s Richard Branson and Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezoz – amongst some of the brightest venture capitalists from Silicon Valley – to increase the financing and research of emerging energy trends and concepts.

In a post on the Gates Notes blog, the Microsoft co-founder said: “We need affordable and reliable energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gas to power the future—and to get it, we need a different model for investing in good ideas and moving them from the lab to the market.”

“Even though $1bn is a significant step, it is just one of many steps on the path to a sustainable energy future. With patience, flexibility, collaboration, and a clear vision backed by meaningful investment, we, the fund’s investors, are confident the world can meet its energy needs in a way that is fair, safe, and sustainable. And we’re excited about the role that Breakthrough Energy Ventures will play in that effort.”

Monday’s announcement marks the first significant investment fund announced by Gates and his Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which was launched in November 2015 while the climate negotiations in Paris were commencing.

The Coalition was launched alongside another new clean energy initiative called Mission Innovation, which commits its members to doubling their respective R&D investments over five years.

Gates has confirmed that the investors in the Breakthrough Energy Ventures will have a high tolerance to some of the riskier aspects found when attempting to scale-up innovation, and are willing to wait longer than the market average for any return on investment.

“When it comes to energy, though, this transition—from idea to product to company—is often complicated by the challenges of the market. Unlike a software start up, getting a new energy technology from a lab to market takes a lot of infrastructure, a lot of upfront capital, and a lot of time,” Gates wrote on his blog.

“The Breakthrough Energy Coalition created BEV to address some of those challenges in the energy market. We are willing to wait a longer time for returns than other funds. We have a higher tolerance for technical risk, because we know it’s tough to determine which technologies will succeed in a complicated energy market.”

‘Investing makes sense’

The group has outlines five “grand challenges” that it believes are the biggest causes of global emissions for any innovators and start-ups to address. These are electricity, buildings, manufacturing, transportation and food.

Gates has also addressed the recent presidential victory of Republican Donald Trump – who has continuously voiced threats to pull out of the Paris Agreement. During a reporters call on Monday, Gates noted that coalition members will strive to push the message that “even if you don’t look at the climate change piece of this, investing makes sense” as a means to appeal to Trump’s mooted environmental plans.

Matt Mace

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