Bill Gates and Friends Make Case for Energy R&D

By Alexis Madrigal

Bill Gates and a host of other corporate heavy hitters have founded a new organization to push for more research and development into clean energy technology.

Gates and former DuPont CEO Charles Holliday heralded the launch of the American Energy Innovation Council with an unusually clear and concise argument for increased government support for green tech R&D.

“Despite talk about the need for ’21st century’ energy sources, federal spending on clean energy research is also relatively small. The U.S. government annually spends less than $3 billion — compared with roughly $30 billion annually on health research and $80 billion on defense research and development,” they argued in The Washington Post.

The editorial goes on to lay out why energy technologies deserve government backing. First, they write, “There are profound public interests in having more energy options.” Second, the huge costs associated with developing new energy technologies requires government help. As they put it, “The nature of the energy business requires a public commitment.” And last, they point out that the cheapest electricity comes from the oldest plants, which makes for a conservative industry. “Power plants last 50 years or more, and they are very cheap to run once built, meaning there is little market for new models.”

Gates has shown an increasing interest in energy problems delivering an impressive TED talk this year about the need for low-carbon energy. He has also funded energy startups and geoengineering research.

Many independent groups like The Breakthrough Institute have been pushing for increased energy R&D funding, but none have the roster of heavy hitters of the council. The new organization lists a herd of other corporate leaders behind the effort including Ursula Burns, Xerox CEO, green tech venture capitalist John Doerr, and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt. Also listed is Norm Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin and head of the Obama Administration’s blue-ribbon panel on NASA and the future of human spaceflight.

While the Gates/Holliday letter and the corporate leadership is impressive, there is little on the group’s sparse website about what exactly they suggest. Instead, the council is reaching out to scientists, policy wonks and others to develop detailed recommendations that will be released “in a few months.”

The Council hired Widmeyer Communications to man their public relations, a mid-size firm that has worked with Coca Cola, Pfizer and a host of government agencies. They also appear to be linked to ClimateWorks, which registered the americanenergyinnovation.org domain.

Image: The rooftop solar installation at Solyndra, a solar company.
Jon Snyder/Wired.com

See Also:

WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal’s Twitter, Tumblr, and forthcoming book on the history of green technology; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.

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