Paris 2015

Three energy solutions that excite Bill Gates

Bill Gates launches clean energy initiative

Solar chemical technology, flow batteries and solar paint are three examples of promising technologies motivating Bill Gates as he announces alongside top billionaires to accelerate clean energy innovation.

In a paper released on his official blog over the weekend, the world's richest man explained the pressing need for increased public and private funds into research and development (R&D) to make renewable energy cheaper and more effective.

"Promising concepts and viable products are separated by a Valley of Death that neither government funding nor conventional investors can bridge completely."

By launching the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, he hopes capital from the 28 members, who include Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba's Jack Ma, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos, will allow firms to get their ideas into the marketplace. No details on the coalition's size was available but Gates did say the group's goal is as much accelerating progress on clean energy as it is making a profit.

His announcement came as the United Nations conference on climate change kicked off in Paris on Sunday, where governments hope to ink an agreement to cap the rate of global warming at 2 degrees Celsius compared with the current rate of 2.5-3.76 degrees.

Gates' mention of three specific energy solutions primarily serves to underline his overall argument for more investment into R&D since none of the technologies are likely to be ready for a decade, according to his paper. However, Gates failed to mention whether the Breakthrough Energy Coalition will be funding these solutions.

Solar chemical technology essentially uses solar energy to create hydrogen, which can be used as fuel or for commercial purposes, such as making fertilizer.

"Solar chemical would put us on a path to decarbonizing both the electricity and transportation sectors. It would also help a lot with the storage problem, because the world is already very good at storing fuels and moving them around in pipelines, oil tankers, and other infrastructure," Gates wrote.

The second idea, a flow battery, could redefine how we store electricity. By utilizing a rechargeable liquid electrolyte inside two pairs of tanks, flow batteries are much more sustainable than lithium-ion batteries-the current gold standard for electricity storage.

The purpose behind solar paint is to make solar power easier to install. Maintaining solar panels in an average household can be expensive so by finding a light-sensitive dye that can generate electricity, consumers can transform any surface of their house into a solar panel by simply painting it.

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The funding dilemma

Gates' argument for increased government and private sector capital rings especially true for developing countries with strained finances.

For the 48 countries that make the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) at the summit, it will cost a combined $93.7 billion per year to implement their goals, according to new data by The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) on Monday.

Ahead of the Paris summit, each country was expected to unveil a list of proactive actions to reduce greenhouse gases, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), but it's unclear how LDCs will fund their INDCs.

"All LDCs agree that fulfilling their INDCs cannot be done without a significant contribution from international climate finance, whether it be public or private," the note said, recommending the Paris summit focus on an agreement that prioritizes investment into LDCs.

A number of emerging markets, such as India, China, Brazil and Chile, have already committed to increasing capital for R&D in renewables as part of 'Mission Innovation,' a program announced on Sunday that compliments Gates' private-sector approach.