Software tycoon and philanthropist Bill Gates is off the mark with his $2-billion commitment to research the next generation of clean energy technologies, according to clean energy entrepreneur Jigar Shah.
Gates made headlines late last month when he revealed plans to double his billion-dollar investment in green technology in a bid to avert catastrophic climate change. “Climate change is a big problem, but it’s one that if you do the right types of [research and development] you can actually avoid the ill effects,” he said.
But “experts on solar—the fastest growing source of renewable energy—say what pushes costs down is not a ‘breakthrough’ technology,” ThinkProgress reports. “It might not sound exciting, but it’s changes in policy and financial innovations that spur industry growth and could be the difference between transforming the energy grid soon, or too late.”
Gates has been investing in technologies like nuclear recycling and solar chemical power that are still in early stages of development, Page writes. But Shah said it takes 30 years for a new technology to enter the energy space—which means today’s research and development would hit the market too late to have a decisive impact on climate change.
Philanthropists like Gates seem to be “ so used to consumer tech that they don’t understand how infrastructure works,” Shah said. But “unlike consumer technology, such as a phone or personal computer, electricity is a giant system,” Page notes.
“Shah likens adding new electricity sources to rolling out a new kind of asphalt that would make roads last three times as long. The product is undoubtedly better, but how long would it take for all governments and companies around the world to switch over? Furthermore, electricity—more so than asphalt—needs to be reliable, so it has a high barrier to the market.”
But “luckily, we already have scalable, workable technology for renewable energy. Expanding and improving those will get us further, faster than the ‘miracle’ Gates called for.”