Today Bill Gates (former CEO, Microsoft) and Chad Holliday (former CEO, DuPont) announced the creation of the American Energy Innovation Council, a body of high-profile business leaders who will investigate how to boost energy research and development in the private sector.
In an op-ed published in today’s Washington Post (1) Mr. Gates and Mr. Holliday argue that energy R&D has been slow to take in the private sector because of relatively high risk in developing new systems as well as slow turnover of old systems. They make the case that energy is an inherently public interest and that private companies should not (and, without government intervention, will not) carry the risk alone. The purpose of the American Energy Innovation Council, therefore, appears to be to advocate on behalf of energy scientists and businessmen for stronger incentives and rewards from government for companies which invest in energy research and development.
This is not the first splash Mr. Gates has made in the realm of energy policy. Earlier this year he advocated “innovation over insulation” in the Huffington Post (2), proposing that the focus of much of the nation’s green energy movement has been on the proliferation of existing energy efficiency measures to the detriment of development of new energy sources. This position was rebutted a few days later by David B. Goldstein, Co-Director of the NDRC Energy Program (3). Mr. Goldstein advocates the use of pollution caps and energy efficiency as “the largest, fastest, cheapest and cleanest way to meet our climate goals, and recharge our economy.” He compares investing in large-scale energy innovations now to planning in 1970 to sell a smartphone in 2010.
It appears that the American Energy Innovation Council may be an enactment on the opinions expressed by Mr. Gates in the Huffington Post: significant investment must be made in energy research and development (innovation), at potentially high risk, in order to reduce our carbon pollution by 80% in 2050.