So, a couple of months after the momentous public and private sector commitments involving billionaire movers and shakers such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, Jeff Bezosh and other high-profile entrepreneurs to pledge to spark a “new economic revolution” based around clean energy through launching a new investment drive for renewables…..it’s instructive to look back and reflect on the issues - and exactly what was agreed.
The group planned to mainly invest in early-stage clean energy companies across a range of sectors, such as electricity generation and storage, transportation and agriculture. The initiative - announced in conjunction with Mission Innovation - aimed to double the amount of public money going into clean energy innovation. It’s expected this will bolster governmental assistance in renewables such as solar to wind energy to $20bn.
Gates said the world will be using 50% more energy by the middle of this century than it does today. “The renewable technologies we have today, like wind and solar, have made a lot of progress and could be one path to a zero-carbon energy future,” he said. “But given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths – and that means we also need to invent new approaches. Private companies will ultimately develop these energy breakthroughs, but their work will rely on the kind of basic research that only governments can fund. Both have a role to play.”
Zuckerberg said current progress towards sustainable energy is “too slow” while Branson added: “We must produce an abundance of clean, renewable energy and drive further innovation to make the next generation of energy more efficient. It will benefit the environment, our society and the economy.”
Hoffman said efforts to transform energy sources have struggled because they require collaboration between private and public sectors.
“The swords that cut this Gordian knot: breakthrough technologies built and deployed by entrepreneurial companies with global scope,” he said. “Making the right investments in the right innovations now is essential to solving this energy challenge for current and future generations across the planet.”
The tumbling costs of renewables - solar, for example, has dropped in price by 70% since 2009 - has helped bolster installation but experts have warned that dependency upon fossil fuels will need to be wound back more quickly if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change fuelled by greenhouse gases.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change, most of the world’s electricity can - and must - be produced by low-carbon sources by 2050. The panel said that renewables needed to grow from a 30% share today to 80% of power generation by 2050, with fossil fuel energy without carbon capture and storage technology phased out by 2100.
Michael Brune, executive director of environment group the Sierra Club, said clean energy was already “winning the fight” against fossil fuels.
“Now, these incredible public and private commitments, which are historic, essential, and timely, show that the nations of the world – as well as many of the world’s leading visionaries and philanthropists – are committed to making clean energy even more widespread, even faster,” he said.
“What’s now clearer than ever that our future will be 100% clean energy, and that dirty fossil fuels are merely riding out their final wave.”