Smart Money Invests in Energy Innovations

Let’s not talk politics. So begins a dear friend’s annual Christmas letter. And I agree. Let’s not.

Instead, let’s talk about solutions.

Around the world — and especially in the United States — labs, garages, universities and incubators are bubbling with innovations to disrupt the deleterious impacts of carbon emissions in our atmosphere. CO2 waste is being slashed, replaced, sequestered, and even turned into something useful (ethanol, fertilizer, diamonds, sneakers, car seats, highways, blue M&Ms), or all of the above.

Scratch around your local university or clean-energy community and I guarantee you will discover energizing activity nearby to reduce climate risk, whether you’re in Massachusetts or Oklahoma. My own company, WeSpire, is the brilliant brainchild of a media CEO who envisioned a behavior-science digital app with a positive vibe. This platform moves masses of people on positive environmental actions and eventual habit formation.

Wise investors have been betting on these solutions all along. This week, a new fund brings an additional $1 billion: Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Who is leading it? Another prescient CEO, Bill Gates of Microsoft, together with a powerhouse of friends with more “B” names (Benioff, Bezos, Bloomberg, Branson) who collectively have been responsible for many great technological advances of our lifetimes.

What’s remarkable about this fund? The focus is not only on financial returns or digital wow, it’s on global warming. It involves a new breed of investor: patient, committed, with family they care about, and deep pockets they can draw from.

Participation requires a long-term view. Nevertheless, the pace is urgent. Smart, successful billionaires often respect the warnings of world-class scientists, doctors, and other experts. They look for consensus agreement from the pros. No surprise, then, that their mantra is Full Speed Ahead.

Everything we go for has to have a chance to significantly reduce emissions. Our goal is to make energy cheaper — less expensive than gas or coal — and completely clean. Solar and wind, yes; also breakthrough improvements on existing, nascent strategies: grid transformation and micro-grid development, exponential storage improvements, nuclear fission, liquid fuel from solar. And more.

Watch Gates describe the array of new technologies in the pipeline:

Blah blah blah humbug: It’s tempting to give up hope, go to bed and pull the covers overhead for four years, as one friend muttered last week. Please don’t. Rather, feed your soul with the heartening news of courageous problem-solvers: the innovators and their generous backers.

The global warming problem is a long-term and wide-ranging, having developed over decades and spewing via multiple applications of fossil fuels that we take for granted in the developed world, from airplane travel to air conditioning. Changing all of this seems impossible to many people, but fortunately not to all. The winners see a clearly lit path through the obstacles.

It’s been a wild ride for we humans of the Anthropocene to get where we are at the end of 2016 — and it will be a wild ride to maneuver all 7.5 billion of us to a safe, carbon-free scenario. If you like, go to bed and pull the covers over your head if you must. But if a front-row seat on unfolding world history is appealing, with occasional opportunities to participate, e.g. by investing in clean technologies, or choosing clean power as your residential energy source, then please stay tuned and alert.

When the turn-around analysis of these decades is written, Gates and his partners will be an inspired chapter. The Renaissance had their Medicis; we have our climate-solving billionaires. Which is why Senator Bernie Sanders’ persistent drumbeat against billionaires is so irritating, unproductive, and downright boring. But we said we wouldn’t talk about politics.

Originally published at on December 15, 2016.