Renewable energy gets a billion-dollar boost

Billionaires like Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and SAP founder Hasso Plattner intend to invest one billion dollars in renewable energy through Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund. A response to the climate deniers taking over Washington? John Dyer reports from Boston.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and other billionaires have established an investment fund to pump USD 1 billion in renewable energy. (Image credit: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank)

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and other billionaires have established an investment fund to pump USD 1 billion in renewable energy. (Image credit: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank)

As the billionaire president-elect of the USA, Donald Trump, appoints oilmen to his incoming cabinet, other billionaires have established a multi-billion-dollar fund to invest in solar, wind and more clean energy.

Cheaper than goal and gas

Microsoft founder and ex-chief executive Bill Gates announced the USD 1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures earlier this week. He and business leaders like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Alibaba’s Jack Ma want to expand renewable energy.

“We want to be cheaper than coal or gasoline for transport. And so that bar is particularly low right now,” said Gates, who resigned as chairman of Microsoft two years ago to become one of the world’s leading philanthropists. “But there are a lot of paths that make us feel confident we can get there. We have five or six paths. We have several companies in each path.”

Combined net worth of USD 170 billion

In addition to Gates, Bezos and Ma, other directors of the fund expected to run for 20 years include Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Bloomberg founder and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla and others.

Bloomberg and Forbes estimated the combined net worth of the investors was around USD 170 billion.

Nuclear reactors, carbon capture

The new fund would follow in the model of Gates’ existing support of companies like TerraPower, a nuclear reactor start-up company, Aquion Energy, which is developing batteries using saltwater and other non-toxic materials, and Carbon Engineering, a start-up linked to Harvard University that is attempting to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere on a mass scale.

Gates’ announcement came as Trump appears to be doubling down on petroleum.

On the campaign trail, Trump has said he would seek to ramp up coal production to create jobs – even though much of coalmining is automated today – and cut the programs that led to the government investing in companies like Solyndra, a California solar panel maker that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving a USD 535 million loan guarantee as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan enacted after the 2008 financial crisis.

Nominations swimming in oil

Trump also nominated Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, an oil industry ally and fervent climate change denier, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency and ex-Texas Governor Rick Perry, another oil politician, as energy secretary.

Environmentalists decried announcement of Perry’s appointment on Tuesday.

“Perry’s clear financial interests in major energy projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline make it obvious that there’s no way he could manage the agency’s activities impartially,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in a statement. “His ideological obsession with promoting dirty fossil fuels and ignoring the climate crisis means he is just as unfit for this position as the other climate deniers Trump is promoting for key posts.”

Gates plays it down

But Gates said he would give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt before judging him on his energy policies.

“We don’t have any inside knowledge of what the energy policies of this administration will look like,” said Gates. “It’s possible they will reduce energy research. But it’s also significantly possible they would increase energy research.”

Trump would be open to discussing green energy because it’s a growing industry that’s producing jobs, Gates further argued, adding that he and the president-elect spoke recently on the phone.

Gates said Trump was open to retaining government incentives that make it easier for homeowners, local governments and others to purchase renewable energy. “This administration likes a good deal,” said Gates. “It’s not a huge part of the budget and yet it can help the economy just like shale gas has.”


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