How Billionaires like Bill Gates are Working to Replace Fossil Fuels, Accelerate Innovation, and Drive Economic Growth in the Process.

Austin D Munday
Mar 2, 2016 · 6 min read

Back on November 30th, Bill Gates announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) at the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris. The purpose of the coalition is to invest in, develop, implement, sponsor, or otherwise promote energy that does not produce carbon.

Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson are a few of the coalition’s notable members; the group totals at around 30 members, and they are collectively worth over 350 billion dollars.

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Bill Gates, who leads and organizes the party, says he developed the idea for a private investment group out of his dissatisfaction with the current state of energy research. Governmental budget cuts for energy research coupled with the risky nature of untested energy technologies have resulted stifled alternative energy generation productions. Inventions that have surfaced have yet to reach practical scale. [1]

One of those inventions that is being fleshed out thanks to the BEC is Solar Chemical Technology; the technology works by converting sunlight into hydrocarbons which can then be stored and dispensed as fuel.

“There are about 20 different things like that,” Gates said to the Washington Post. “They could give us a solution in which the premium you pay for clean, reliable energy is actually gone, so rich countries can go to zero [emissions], and countries such as India that want to provide electricity to their citizens can go at full speed, without having to choose between development and being green. [1]

Gates has also convinced 20 countries , of which include the U.S., Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, and others, to participate in Mission Innovation. Choosing to participate in this initiative means that the country is committing to invest in clean energy. The pledge also entails that the government will double government investing in clean energy and share information with other countries about their investigations.

Mission Innovation is similar to The Giving Pledge, which was started by Gates back in 2011. Both initiatives are geared towards giving money for the greater good of humanity. The difference is that the Giving Pledge is pointed towards wealthy individuals and not governments. Those who take the oath promise to give away a majority of their wealth over time. Over 141 individuals and/or couples have taken the Giving Pledge.

So there are many others active, do-good billionaires like Bill Gates, detailing all of them and their contributions could fill a small book. One that I think worth mentioning is Manoj Bhargava; you may have seen him in the documentary Billions in Change. He is an Indian entrepreneur that created the 5-hour energy drink.

In the documentary, Bhargava details a couple really interesting innovations. One of which is tapping into the heat energy of the Earth’s core. The process will involve drilling deep holes into the Earth, and then mobilizing special cables made of Graphene to transfer the energy back upwards. Although this technology is far away, Bhargava has already made basic, testable prototypes of the cables.

Another innovation is the Rainmaker machine, which produces water usable for both human consumption and agricultural purposes. The system that the machine uses mimics the natural water cycle; it works by converting water into vapor by heating tubes submerged in water.

Bhargava says the machine can produce a thousand gallons of refined water an hour. Yet he is unclear how much energy is required to produce this amount of water. We have long had the technology to convert sea water into drinkable water, but the problem has been doing it in a cost effective way. One note he does mention is that the Rainmaker recycles the energy:

“It takes energy to heat the water, and then the energy is released when you turn it back to water. So we take that energy and recycle it for heating the water again.”

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The government official Alec Ross was recently featured on This Week In Startups. One of the topics the host, Jason Calacanis, brought up was wealth disparity and how people in the 1% do a lot of good with their money, and are able to accomplish things that governments are not really capable of:

Aids is not the problem it was 20 years ago. One of the big reason for that is because the Gates Foundation and others supported the creation of systems that develop pharmaceuticals and efficiently allocate them across the globe. They build the capacity locally so that people can stay complaint with the course of care. That was more an accomplishment of the Gates Foundation than of the UN or the government of South Africa or any individual government. it is the case that the heads of state do look to people like Gates and his small group of peers to solve problems that are transnational in nature. — Alec Ross[]

Of course, not all billionaires are like Bill Gates. There are different types. There is the kind that made their money through political connections and exploitation. For example the profiteers of the natural resource grab of Russia after the Soviet Union collapse. And then there are the kinds that create something really valuable for many people like Windows Operating System or Facebook.

So while there are greedy people apart of the 1%, there are a portion of them that are very are beneficial to society, especially the ones who generated that wealth themselves.

And rich people don’t keep their money sitting in the bank. They put it to work in the market, using it to invest in companies. Yes, Bill Gates made his initial fortune from Microsoft, but the main portion of his net worth has been generated through investing his Microsoft earnings. [3]

These investments contribute to our general economic libido because investments facilitate company growth; i.e. the company can afford to hire more workers which in turn allows the company to provide a better service/product for more people.

Yet in the case of Bill Gates, Manoj Bhargava, and their peers, there isn’t always a monetary return expectation, instead they are motivated by the urgency of the problems at hand and because they care about humanity. Here is what Gates had to say when asked why he does what he does.

Interviewer: “Im trying to get the core of your drive to give.”

Gates: “For me, it partly relates to innovation. I've seen the power of innovation, to create the personal computer, to create the internet — the question becomes, “are we innovating for those who are in great need?”

I was absolutely stunned when money was not being spent on a malaria vaccine. A million people die a year [from malaria], yet we are spending more on a drug for male baldness. So that misallocation is upsetting to me because I love innovation and I think it ought to benefit everyone.” Source: 2:20–3:00

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​-Austin

[1] Warrick, Joby. “Bill Gates on Climate Change: ‘We Need to Move Faster than the Energy Sector Ever Has.’.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 30 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

[2] Dolan, Kerry A. “Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg & More Than 20 Other Billionaires Launch Coalition To Invest In Clean Energy.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 29 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

[3] Bort, Julie. “This Is The Man Making Bill Gates So Rich.Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

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Austin D Munday

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