Energy Ink

Bill Gates on the need for an energy miracle

What the Microsoft scion thinks about the modern carbon quandary

Guest Post

August 25, 2010

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Perhaps it’s the fizzling of Microsoft of late, but Bill Gates seems to have a lot of time on his hands. He’s recently taken to speaking up about energy and climate change. In an interview with Technology Review editor-in-chief Jason Pontin, Gates delves into the prospects for nuclear energy, carbon pricing and energy miracles. Here are a few snippets plucked from that conversation:

On the merits of feed-in tariffs:

The irony is that if you actually look at the amount of money that’s been spent on feed-in tariffs and you properly account for it–tax credits, feed-in credits in Spain, solar photovoltaic stuff in Germany–the world has spent a massive amount of money which would have been far better spent on energy research.

On the need for a carbon tax:

If you said to a utility company executive, which is more likely to stay in place: a cap-and-trade thing, whose price will vary all over the map, that will have some international things that will be shown to be a waste of money? Or a tax and a regulatory framework for plant replacement over the next 50 years? We should have a carbon tax. What we owe the developing world is this: we’re willing to pay high prices for energy plants above coal and drive prices down the curve so by the time they need to buy them, they don’t have to pay the high price.

On the renewable revolution:

Almost everything called renewable energy is intermittent. I have another term for it: “energy farming.” In fact, you need not just a storage miracle, you need a transmission miracle, because intermittent sources are not available in an efficient form in all locations. Now, energy factories, which are hydrocarbon and nuclear energy–those things are nice. You can put a roof on them if you get bad weather. But energy farming? Good luck to you! Unfortunately, conventional energy factories emit CO2 and that is a very tough problem to solve, and there’s a huge disincentive to do research on it.

On reducing the overall carbon footprint of the industrialized world:

It is disappointing that some people have painted this problem as easy to solve. It’s not easy, and it’s bad for society if we think it is, because then funding for R&D doesn’t happen.

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