Bill Gates and top investors launch $1 billion clean energy fund

Bill Gates launched a $1 billion fund for investment in clean energy innovation Monday to combat the effects of climate change.

The Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which Gates will chair and run with a host of other high-profile investors, is focused on clean energy technology. The fund, Gates said in a conference call Monday, will invest in companies aiming “to solve the climate problem but also providing lower cost energy.”

The venture’s goal is to start investing as early as next year and operate for 20 years.

“I am honored to work along with these investors to build on the powerful foundation of public investment in basic research,” the Microsoft founder said in a statement. “Our goal is to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable and emissions-free energy to the world.”

Gates announced the formation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, the group that is launching the fund, at last year’s Paris climate change meeting. In addition to the private investments, Gates said he and other investors convinced 20 governments to double their energy research and development budgets over the next five years.

Gates and his investors expect the fund will be used to supplement government funding, which provides a major catalyst for clean energy research through business subsidies and university grants to universities.

“Our mission is to find, fund and accelerate the success of technologies and entrepreneurs who are going to create a zero carbon future,” said John Doerr, a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Silicon Valley and an investor in the energy venture, told reporters Monday.

Other investors include Alibaba’s Jack Ma, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Luke Popovich, vice president of external communications at the National Mining Association, cautioned against the previous failures of venture capital energy funds and advocated for investment in coal technology. He criticized what he called a “regulatory overreach” from the EPA in limiting the industry’s capabilities.

Popovich lauded Gates’ pragmatism, saying he hoped Gates would see investment in producing cleaner coal as a way to bridge the gap between the world’s current energy dependency and where it needs to be to meet the goals of the Paris climate change agreement.

“You cannot achieve that objective without these intermediate, what we call, ‘low emissions, high efficiency coal technologies,’ that have to be used in the developing world where most of the coal will be burned in the next 20 to 30 years,” Popovich said in a phone interview.

China’s demand for coal is increasing at a slower rate and the International Energy Agency says its consumption is likely to have peaked, Reuters reported. But consumption in countries such as India is growing.

“Coal demand is moving to Asia, where emerging economies with growing populations are seeking affordable and secure energy sources to power their economies,” Keisuke Sadamori, director of the IEA’s energy markets and security directorate, told Reuters.

The American Coal Foundation, American Coal Council and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative did not respond to request for comment.

Climate change activists have criticized some of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks for their stances on climate change. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, has sued the Environmental Protection Agency during his tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general and a critic of climate-change regulations, to head the EPA. Judy Woodruff sits down with Scott Segal of Bracewell and Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, to discuss whether Pruitt’s background suggests “radicalism” and the incoming administration’s promise of regulatory reform.

Trump himself, told FOX News on Sunday that “nobody really knows” if climate change is real.

Gates and the other investors on a conference call Monday afternoon offered little on how they thought the Trump administration would affect the project. They emphasized the global nature of the venture and noted that because the project spans 20 years, it transcends the policies of a single administration.

“What’s going to happen in the U.S. isn’t clear,” Gates said on the call. He added there was bipartisan enthusiasm for research and development investment and that, no matter what, the initiative would be going “full speed ahead.”

The current energy secretary was complimentary of the fund.

“I want to thank the Breakthrough Energy Coalition for their dedication to this global effort to reduce clean energy technology costs that will deliver the deep decarbonization we need to keep global warming in check,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said in a statement.

Investing in this space in the past decade has been fickle at times. A study, published in July, from MIT reported that “venture capital (VC) firms spent over $25 billion funding clean energy technology (cleantech) start-ups from 2006 to 2011 and lost over half their money.”

The BEV investors, though, said they were confident they had learned from previous errors and are setting a high bar companies must meet before they can be included in the fund’s portfolio.

“We’ll probably be more limited by the number of companies there are that really meet our criteria in terms of chance of success … than we are by the funds we have available,” Gates said. He anticipated the number of promising companies will increase as the funds become available.

The fund is still hiring for key administrative roles. Gates said he hopes to fill those spots within the next three months.