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Published on May 13th, 2017 | by Carolyn Fortuna

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10 Cleantech Billionaires

May 13th, 2017 by  


Each day, Forbes updates “The World’s Billionaires: Today’s Winners and Losers” in real time. If you’re like me, and you see millions and millions of dollars of personal wealth fluctuating each day, it makes the work week seem a bit disheartening.

Then again, there are a few glimmers of hope when we focus on cleantech billionaires (and maybe eventually millionaires as well). These are individuals who have either made their wealth from investments in renewable energy or have used wealth they obtained from other sources toward promoting a sustainable tomorrow. Some of them even add social justice action to their portfolios. They are trying to do the right thing to help save our planet, more or less.

cleantech billionaires

We’ve decided to create a page here on CleanTechnica in which we show how some of the world’s top rich people and innovators have focused on cleantech initiatives to become part of an elite group of cleantech billionaires.

Take a look at the people we’ve uncovered on our Cleantech Billionaires page or below, and let us know who’s missing!


Michael Bloomberg (net worth on 5/13/17 — $48.8 billion)

Michael Bloomberg cofounded his financial information and media company after spending 15 entry-level years with Salomon Brothers. He has donated more than $4 billion to gun control, climate change, and other causes, including $30 million in support for the Sierra Club’s goal of eliminating half of all coal plants in the United States by 2017. Cleantech research leader Bloomberg New Energy Finance is clearly part of Bloomberg’s corporate empire as well. Ideally, we’d like to delineate how much of a billionaire’s net worth comes from cleantech/climate/social justice ventures, but it’s very hard to determine that for Mr. Bloomberg, so we aren’t pretending to have a number at this point.

Elon Musk (net worth on 5/13/17 — $15.6 billion)

Elon Musk works to change the way that we think about transportation and energy systems. He is co-founder and CEO of Tesla, which manufactures and sells fully electric vehicles, energy storage systems, and now solar roofs to the mass market. Musk is also CEO and cofounder of SpaceX, which is a leading private rocket ship company. The long-term goal of SpaceX is to help make humans a multi-planetary species in order to increase our chances of long-term survival. A trained physicist, Musk made his first fortune as a cofounder of PayPal, but he eventually put essentially all of his cash into Tesla, SolarCity (which is now part of Tesla), and SpaceX to save them from the brink of collapse.

Aloys Wobben (net worth on 5/13/17 — $8.1 billion)

Aloys Wobben holds a 100% stake in Enercon, which produces and assembles wind turbines, and also offers service programs for plant operations. The company holds a high profile in Germany, controlling 50% of the wind market. Interestingly, Enercon does not conduct business with markets in the US, India, or China. “I wouldn’t enjoy supplying wind turbines to a nation so that it can supply water for huge golf courses,” the man known as “Mr. Wind” once remarked in an interview.

Richard Branson (net worth on 5/13/17 — $5 billion)

Richard Branson earned his fortune through multiple businesses bearing the “Virgin” brand name, including Virgin Galactic and Virgin Atlantic. He is a member of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which was announced at the UN climate conference in Paris and seeks to pressure the world’s richest countries to double their funding for basic energy research. Branson has also been involved with Formula E, and electric car racing series, and the Zayed Future Energy Prize, the “Cleantech Oscars.” Like with Bloomberg, it’s very hard to know how much of Branson’s net worth is now put into cleantech.

Wang Chuanfu (net worth on 5/13/17 — $4.2 billion)

Wang Chuanfu is the founder and chairman of BYD, which stands for “build your dreams” and is one of the largest producers of electric cars in the world. First making its fortune via mobile phone batteries, BYD has strongly shifted toward cleantech. Aside from electric cars, BYD is also a world leader in the production of electric buses, electric trucks, solar panels, and stationary energy storage systems. (Note: Warren Buffett owns an 8% stake in BYD, but since that’s a relatively “minor” portion of Buffett’s net worth and he has big investment in dirty tech, we have not added him to this list … yet.)

CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan interviewed Mr. Chuanfu in 2016. Have a watch: Interview With BYD Founder & Chairman Wang Chuanfu (VIDEO).

John Arnold (net worth on 5/13/17 — $3 billion)

John Arnold is one of the world’s most successful energy traders. After earning the disgraced Enron $750 million the year the firm declared bankruptcy, Arnold founded Centaurus Advisers and made his fortune. Now he focuses on philanthropy. As a Democrat who favors pension reform, he has the strange bedfellows of the Koch brothers as he has worked toward another of his projects, criminal justice reform. Arnold has also joined Bill Gates and others to launch the $1 billion clean tech energy fund. Yet again, though, it’s hard to know how much Mr. Arnold’s net worth is now tied up in cleantech/climate/social justice work.

Zhu Gongshan (net worth on 5/13/17 — $2 billion)

Zhu Gongshan is the chairman of GCL-Poly Energy Holdings, which is one of the largest producers of the polysilicon that goes into solar panels. Gongshan is said to be the richest Chinese person working in the solar industry, but we presume that means working solely in solar, since Wang Chuanfu’s BYD is a major solar panel producer, but is also heavily involved in cars, batteries, and other products.

Li Hejun (net worth on 5/13/17 — $1.93 billion)

Li Hejun is the chairperson at Hanergy Holding Group. This consortium owns practically all forms of renewable energy — solar assets (including a controlling stake in Hanergy Thin Film Power), hydropower plants, and a wind farm. A May 2015 drop of 50% nearly erased $19 billion of Hanergy’s market capitalization, so a regulatory investigation took place, with the decision to eject Hejun from managing a business in Hong Kong “for a certain period.” We’ll see if Hejun bounces back, but he definitely seems like one of the more “interesting” characters on this list.

Rubens Ometto Silveira Mello (net worth on 5/13/17 — $1.31 billion)

Rubens Ometto Silveira Mello became the world’s first ethanol billionaire through his sugar production conglomerate, Cosan. From a meager start, the company has become one of Brazil’s only privately controlled energy companies. Ometto’s grandparents established a sugarcane mill northwest of Sao Paulo in 1936, and, more than 50 years later, Ometto bought out the 23 family shareholders. Cosan is Brazil’s first sugarcane company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Fan Zhaoxia (net worth on 4/19/17 — $1.1 billion)

Fan Zhaoxia is the largest shareholder in Beijing Yuntong Technology, a supplier of equipment to the solar power and semiconductor industry. She is the legal representative of a family fortune. Frankly, we don’t know much more than that — there’s not even a pic of her on the Forbes page. (Some rich people like to keep a low profile.)

Photo credit: University of Salford via Foter.com / CC BY






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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. She’s molds scholarship into digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+



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