In December in Paris, finalizing the language of the COP21 climate deal required unprecedented levels of cooperation between the participating nations. But now that the conference is over, the real work must be done. Beyond the grandiose claims of world leaders lie certain developments in the private sector that may actually accomplish some good.
Bill Gates has recently enlisted other prominent individuals in the tech sector to make "large funding commitments for basic and applied research" in the development of clean energy solutions. The "Breakthrough Energy Coalition", as his organization is called, aims to make fossil fuel alternatives cost-effective in the face of continual government inaction – embracing the ‘hacker' spirit that drove the PC revolution and applying it to the push for a clean energy economy. Their approach plans for a "new model" of public-private partnerships; linking governments, energy providers, research institutions, and investors. If dirty, carbon-based fuels are going to be displaced at the pace the world needs, innovative technology must be put to work immediately to help turn the tide.
Introduced at the COP21 conference as a companion to the equally noteworthy Mission Innovation initiative - featuring 20 countries that have pledged to double their clean energy research and development funding by 2020 - the Breakthrough Energy Coalition plans to fund long-term projects aimed at fostering the development of clean energy tech. Their engagement in this task is has been thoroughly praised by President Obama, who spoke at an event in Paris with Gates saying, "Now, Bill has pointed out, and he's absolutely right, that we're also going to have to just invent some entirely new technologies." (Editor's note: one of those could be Randell Mills' Bright Light Power). Still, while the world may not be able to solve climate change with what we currently have, that doesn't mean we can afford to wait to deploy our best efforts in the meantime.
Those who have joined the BEC already - tech titans from Microsoft, Facebook, Virgin, Amazon and Alibaba are just a few - are aware of how crucial clean energy is for business. As Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, believes, "New energy supply, demand and infrastructure technologies will generate expenditures at the trillion-dollar scale. Benefits will surely accrue to the early innovators."
While information about the Coalition has been lacking on specifics, there are certain indications that the funding and expansion of nuclear power as a clean energy source will be a main focus. Gates has made public statements in the past supporting nuclear power, and is himself the chairman of TerraPower, an innovative nuclear energy company that's looking to develop the next generation of power plants. Even the name of the Coalition is extremely similar to that of the Breakthrough Institute. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson (two key members of the Breakthrough Coalition) have also demonstrated a significant interest in the success of nuclear, in addition to their involvement in various other global investment projects. Facebook's Zuckerberg, another notable joiner, has had little past experience in the energy sector, but he has already been investing in renewable and clean energy at Facebook's data facilities.
New, renewable forms of energy production are important in addressing global warming, but they can't be deployed in sufficient quantity to completely replace the burning of fossil fuels anytime soon. According to Columbia Energy, renewables are projected to help the U.S. obtain 14% of its electricity this year - up from years past - and by 2050 we may be capable of taking that number to 80%. But this means not limiting our clean energy choices to one specific pathway, and being open to a range of renewable scenarios to reach that goal.
Acting in conjunction with other forms of clean energy and keeping the burning of fossil fuels to a minimum is the common goal here - and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and Mission Innovation appear ready for action in promoting the implementation of cost-effective, dependable and clean energy around the world.
First Published: 2016-02-13
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