Bill Gates touts green energy job creation

Source: Umair Irfan, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates yesterday laid out the jobs case for energy innovation.

Though new technologies have a habit of shuttering old industries and driving people out of work, he argued that new and often unanticipated positions arise to replace losses, helping push down the cost of living.

“Is innovation your friend when it comes to dealing with energy costs, education costs, health costs?” Gates said at event hosted by Reuters in Washington, D.C. “My answer is absolutely yes.”

His message comes after Peabody Energy Corp., the largest coal company in the United States, filed for bankruptcy this month and while the largest solar energy provider in the country, SunEdison Inc., is considering doing the same (E&ENews PM, April 15).

With oil and natural gas prices falling, the world’s energy industry is shifting uneasily along with those it employs, but inventing a cheap grid battery or a low-cost nuclear reactor might be a beacon of hope.

Gates noted that cleaner energy systems would improve energy security, create new industries and enhance health by cutting air pollution.

“The benefits of advances in energy go far beyond just the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

“Climate change seems to rank very low in the presidential race, among issues,” said Stephen Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters. “We did a poll that showed that only 29 percent of voters even wanted to know where their candidate stood on climate change.”

Nonetheless, Gates said, finding a solution to climate change remains an urgent challenge, and the current pace of incremental improvements in existing fossil and renewable power plants is far too slow to avert dangerous warming while leaving many fundamental problems unsolved.

“If you take solar and you keep tinkering with it, you will not tinker it into working at night,” Gates said.

Even if the United States cut its energy use in half, overall energy use in the world would still go up year on year as developing countries install air conditioners and buy more cars, according to Gates. In order to push humanity’s 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions down, the world would need an energy miracle.

To this end, Gates last year helped launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of private investors committed to funding new clean energy technologies. The effort parallels Mission Innovation, an accord among 20 countries to double energy research and development funding over the next five years (ClimateWire, Feb. 8).

“You really tilt the odds in your favor by investing in R&D,” Gates said.