U.S. Government Must Commit to Clean Energy Investment, Bill Gates Says in Science Editorial

The U.S. government must fund clean energy research at levels comparable to its investments in health and defense R&D, and failure to do so would be a “serious miscalculation,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in a Science editorial.

Gates, who also serves as chairman of Microsoft, warned that federal support for energy innovation is “essential to protect America’s national interests and ensure that the United States plays a leading role in the fast-growing global clean energy industry.”

U.S. government investment in energy innovation has fallen by more than 75% over the past three decades, and in 2008 the U.S. spent less on energy R&D as a percentage of gross domestic product than China, France, Japan, or Canada. In the 18 November editorial, Gates recommends increasing federal energy R&D investment from $5 billion to $16 billion a year.

He said market incentives alone will not create enough affordable clean energy to reduce carbon emissions and avoid further global warming. The time frames for developing new energy technologies “stretch past the normal horizons of patent protection,” Gates suggested, and “requires up-front investments that are too large for venture capital and traditional energy companies.”

Bill Gates [Photo © Microsoft Corporation]
Bill Gates | Photo © Microsoft Corporation

Gates is a member of the American Energy Innovation Council, which released a report earlier this year detailing several ways to target federal energy research dollars. To pay for the increased investment, the report suggests changes such as reducing or eliminating subsidies to “well-established energy industries,” diverting royalties from domestic energy production, and imposing a price on carbon pollutants.

Read the full editorial, “The Energy Research Imperative,” by Bill Gates (free to the public).