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Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, directed his attention towards 15-year-olds in his annual letter to followers of the foundation.
Interview by David Brancaccio Tuesday, February 23, 2016 – 05:00
In the wake of the climate talks in Paris in November, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, the billionaire-backed group searching for global energy solutions, is thinking about the future. And Bill Gates, the Coalition’s founder, is writing about it in his yearly letter to followers of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This year’s letter is addressed to a young audience — 15-year-olds — framed around the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” Melinda and Bill’s answers, respectively? More time, and more energy. Investing in creating clean, affordable energy will change the world, Gates says.
Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio spoke with Gates about the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and the future of energy.
Brancaccio: Regarding electric power, energy, what is the market failure here that you and some other wealthy individuals are trying to fix?
Gates: We need clean energy that’s incredibly reliable, and most of the renewables we have are intermittent. Being able to store that energy or having some new source that runs 24 hours a day, that’s what we need to solve the climate problem.
Brancaccio: So what’s the goal? It’s gotta be cheap, it’s gotta be clean, it sounds like.
Gates: Right. So we start at the research level, government has not increased the energy R&D budget in the face of this need for cheaper energy, energy security, and clean energy. That gives us a more supply on the innovation side. And then we ask the private sector to step up. There’s a big reward there, if you can solve it. It takes longer than IT, but it can still be a profit making activity.
Brancaccio: Yeah it could take awhile. I mean, you need to be a very patient man. You and I could be old old men before you see any of this.
Gates: Right. The best writer on this, Vaclav Smil, reminds us that it’s been more than 50 years in the past between an advance and when it’s largely deployed in the energy system. We need to do better this time, but it does take time, even with something really advanced.
Brancaccio: But I want to understand this — is it a feature or a bug that wealthy individuals feel the need to fund this type of work?
Gates: Well, when there’s profit to be made, which in the long run, there really is here, it’s great for capitalism to fund dozens of different ideas. It’s not like the moonshot where we’ll just take one approach and the technology’s good enough that there’s a really high chance of success. It’s like the early days of the automobile where it could have been the steam car, the electric car, or the internal combustion engine. And firms competed and one won out so dramatically people forget the other two were even tried.