At the ARPA-E 2012 summit in the Gaylord Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C. this week, Bill Gates and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu discussed the largest energy challenges of the 21st century in the U.S. and around the world. Here’s a 50-minute video of Gates and Chu’s comments on this, with moderation from John Podesta, from the U.S. Department of Energy on YouTube.
Some of the key points made by Gates and Chu:
- one of the biggest needs for poor people and countries around the world is cheap (and clean) energy (presumably, why Gates is so involved in this topic now, and one reason why he was a featured speaker at ARPA-E);
- solar technology (especially combined with energy storage) offers the capability, in these locations, to leap-frog the traditional, fossil-fuel-powered electricity grid (just as I emphasized in my interview with CNBC for CNBC & Harvard Business Review’s “Energy Opportunities” series);
- the IT revolution kind of warped people’s minds about how fast things can move (expectations for energy to move that quickly are unrealistic);
- partly because of this, the government should double its funding for energy research and development, in order to achieve a fast clean energy transition, Gates argues (“it’s crazy how little we’re funding this energy stuff,” he said);
- investment in a broad range of technologies is needed to achieve the best possible energy future (and that involves taking risks)… and, of course, that means that investment is needed in many technologies and companies that will fail (well over 90% of them will fail, Gates notes);
- Gates is clearly a nuclear power fan (and thinks we need baseload power projects) and is investing in a nuclear startup, TerraPower;
- Chu emphasized that the DOE’s focus is on driving wind, solar, and energy storage to a cheaper and cheaper level, so that they are the cheapest energy sources, combined, than any other option on the planet (what CleanTechnica is all about);
- a clear signal (carbon pricing or a carbon tax) and policy framework from the U.S. government is critical;
- big things can happen fast—the Wright brothers first flew in 1903, and we landed a man on the moon in 1969, Chu noted.
Unfortunately, what neither Gates nor Chu said directly (but did imply in several instances) is that one U.S. political party is working hard to sacrifice our energy and, thus, economic future. “Hobbled by incessant Republican attacks on clean energy, the United States is falling farther and farther behind in the race to build the infrastructure of the 21st century and help civilization survive climate change,” Think Progress notes.
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