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Governments, Private Investors Unveil Clean Energy Plans

Shepherds Flat wind farm

Shepherds Flat wind farm in Oregon, one of the world’s largest (Caithness Energy, U.S. Department of Energy)

30 November 2015. Two separate but related initiatives from governments and private investors were unveiled today to boost investment in clean energy innovations for reducing the threat of climate change.  Statements announcing the initiatives, expected to double global government spending on clean energy innovation to $20 billion, were made to coincide with the opening of the UN conference on climate change, known official as Conference of Parties or COP21 in Paris.

Nations attending the COP21 meeting are putting a greater emphasis on innovations in clean energy technologies to meet the UN’s stated goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F). Both the government and private sector statements recognize that current efforts, commitments, and institutions are not adequate to meet the goal. As a result, both initiatives recognize the need to increase the size of investments, but also change the way research funds are spent and development of innovation is implemented.

The 20 governments signing on to Mission Innovation, the governments’ initiative, commit to double their research and development funding for clean energy innovation in the next 5 years. The New York Times estimates the 20 governments supporting Mission Innovation now spend about $10 billion each year, which if all commitments are kept, would increase to $20 billion. A separate White House fact sheet says the U.S. now spends some $5 billion on energy research, development, and demonstration across 11 agencies, but mainly at Department of Energy.

The private sector initiative, called Breakthrough Energy Coalition, makes no specific financial commitments, either in absolute terms or percentage increases. This group, led by former Microsoft founder Bill Gates, instead focuses on changing the investment environment to reduce risks and challenges facing early stage technologies, as they progress from the lab to market. That includes the gap known as Valley of Death, where private investment is often reluctant to commit to financing until the technology is proven commercially viable, while government funding normally covers only work through proof-of-concept.

Breakthrough Energy Coalition participants include venture investors, entrepreneurs Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, technology CEOs Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Richard Branson of Virgin Group, George Soros of Soros Fund Management, Jack Ma of Alibaba Group in China, and Tata Sons chair emeritus Ratan Tata in India, among others. The group commits to making early stage investments — seed, angel, and first-round venture funds — designed to get good technology ideas out of the lab and into commercial pipelines.

In addition, Breakthrough Energy Coalition investors plan to invest in a wide range of projects covering electric power generation and storage, energy efficiency, and applications of clean energy in transportation, industry, and agriculture. The group expects to back both new technologies as well as enhancements to current processes that reduce costs or increase efficiency. A key factor in its funding decisions, says the group, is the extent to which a proposed technology can be quickly scaled to get into hands of implementers. And the private investors intend to give priority to early-stage technologies generated by the 20 countries in the Mission Innovation initiative.

The private investors expect over the next year to develop mechanisms to review investment proposals and create financing vehicles to make the investments happen. Bill Gates tells more about Breakthrough Energy Coalition in the following video.

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