Skip to main content

Bill Gates Calls for More R&D Funding for Energy Technologies

gates_E_20120229124335This week the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) held its third annual energy innovation summit in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of energy technologies in the U.S. marketplace. Among the impressive lineup of speakers was a notable nuclear energy advocate Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and of the nuclear startup company TerraPower.

Although I wasn’t able to attend the conference in person (I found out too late—bummer!), I followed along on Twitter using the #eis12 hashtag to see what nuggets were said about the future of energy.
In a panel with Secretary Chu, Gates said that research and development for energy technologies is “greatly underfunded.”
"People underestimate how far away we are," Gates said. "That's partly why we can end up underfunding the innovative work that needs to go on."

Boosting funding for research doesn't guarantee that there will be a technological breakthrough, but it does improve the chances of speeding up progress. Still, Gates said, the failure rates of green-technology startups will be well over 90 percent.
In order to get at least 10 to 20 technologies to succeed in the marketplace, Gates called for at least doubling the current budget for R&D to encourage the thousands of companies that may be needed to try their hands at developing the next big energy innovation.
He also said that it’s important that the United States continue developing cheaper, cleaner sources of energy if we want to help impoverished people around the world:
“If you look at improvement in the human condition, it really does have to do with energy. If you want to improve the livelihoods of the poorest 1 billion people in the world, having cheap energy [is a way to do it]. Can they afford transportation, fertilizer, lighting? The answer is no, without cheap energy, they stay stuck where they are.”
As part of his commitment to developing clean energy, Gates reconfirmed his support for nuclear power as a viable, safe, emission-free energy source. Smart Planet explains:
“Unless you can take hydrocarbons and take extreme [carbon] capture-and-storage, then you’ve got nuclear as the one left [that provides baseload power],” he said. “I think we should bet on all of these, and in each area we should have ideally hundreds of companies betting on them.”
Continuing to improve nuclear energy technologies to make them even safer will still be important, Gates said. Inga’s Live Blog explains:
“If you need humans to do something, that’s not a good design,” [said Gates]. Gates said nuclear isn’t dead. Next-gen nuclear plants will no doubt have safety procedures that don’t need people figuring out which switch to flip to stop a meltdown.
Developing game-changing energy technologies will take time however, Gates explains, due to the necessary research and testing that is involved.
The problem with using IT and telecommunications as models for innovating in clean energy is that people underestimate the difficulty of the scientific work needed and how much time is needed for innovations to become adopted, Gates said.
Beyond the time to research, the energy industry is subject to sometimes burdensome regulatory frameworks, which can also delay progress in the field, Gates said:
“Whatever technology they use and how it’s priced for consumers is determined on a regulatory basis,” he said. “It’s very different than having a software company or even a chip factory where your innovation cycles are every two or three years and your dependence on government policy is very low.”
For more information on some of the current challenges facing the energy industry, watch the panel with Gates and Secretary Chu from the summit. For more information on the ARPA-E summit, check out CNET’s coverage.

Photo: Bill Gates at the ARPA-E 2012 summit. Credits: AFP/Getty Images.


Popular posts from this blog

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.


The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.

What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…