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Bill Gates leads new multi-billion dollar clean energy initiative

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A group of philanthropists led by Bill Gates called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, consisting of 26 private investors and the University of California, has vowed to put $2 billion into clean energy through personal investments and a fund that will be set up next year.

Notable names among the investors are: Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Meg Whitman, Hewlett Packard’s current CEO, Africa’s richest business man Aliko Dangote, George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, and Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.

“When people focus on changing the world’s energy systems to eliminate carbon emissions, the real question is what sort of premium cost is there? By directing significant resources toward research, I get optimistic we can bring that premium down to zero and really solve the problem.” Gates said.

The group will work with countries like the US, India, Saudi Arabia, China, Chile and the UK, altogether 20 countries that are responsible for 80 percent of clean-energy research and development. Each of those nations has promised to double their budget for the sector over the next five years, this public part of the plan is called Mission Innovation.

These investments are meant to allow early state energy companies to move their ideas out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. “In the past, too often energy technologies have not crossed the investment ‘valley of death’ where there was little funding to develop ideas because of the risk profile and long return time horizons. These additional resources will dramatically expand the new technologies that will define a future global power mix that is clean, affordable and reliable.” according to a White House statement. These initiatives were announced last Monday on the opening day of UN talks on climate change in Paris which will run through Dec 11. Billed by the UN as the largest single-day gathering of world leaders, the opening of the negotiations was attended by about 150 world leaders.

The climate talks’ goal is to come up with an agreement that for the first time would bind all developing and developed nations alike to cut pollution from fuels like coal, oil and natural gas which are blamed for a rise in global temperatures. The merit of cutting dependency on fossil fuels by developing nations remains problematic even after years of preparation. But in the US, Republicans in Congress have vowed to fight any deal. Under the new plan, the US would double its commitment to clean energy technology to $10 billion per year and the administration needs congressional support for the extra $5 billion.

Jake Schmidt, international program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, was briefed on the new partnership and was upbeat about the plan. “We know we’re going to have to drive down the costs of technology deployment and maybe even create some new technologies. The idea is to show that these countries and these entrepreneurs are going to step up their effort to help speed up the kinds of emissions cuts we’re going to need,” Jake said ahead of the announcement on Sunday.

The personal contribution by Bill Gates will be about $1 billion in a combination of personal investments and contributions to the fund, with the potential of more if exciting ideas come up. Breakthroughs in solar technology and battery storage will be critical for negotiations in Paris to have any chance of succeeding. Without the right technology, developing countries won’t be able to meet their energy needs while at the same time be less dependent on fossil fuels.

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