Bill Gates Announces $1 Billion Initiative for Clean Energy Projects

Natalie Rogers December 16, 2016

If you are a research scientist or a graduate student, funding is probably often at the top of the list of your concerns. In the clean energy research sector, it's often difficult to find funding outside of government sources. But fear not! A new initiative promises to bring over $1 billion to clean energy projects. Microsoft Founder Bill Gates hopes to change that with his recently announced investor-led fund called Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV). Made up of members of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition—members whose names include Jeff Bezos, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, and Richard Branson—BEV is "committed to investing patiently in developing new ways to live, eat, travel, and build."

BEV will begin fielding applications to the program next year with a promise to continue funded projects for 20 years. This is a huge part of the program, as many clean energy technologies have a hard time meeting a return on investment from private funding sources due to the usually long and expensive journey from concept to commercially viable systems. A study published by MIT last July revealed that venture capital firms invested $25 billion in clean energy startups from 2006 to 2011, but lost over half their money. Gates knows finding truly revolutionary breakthroughs will be hard to find, but hopes BEV will find projects to change the energy landscape not just for the US and developed countries, but also for other parts of the world where clean, cheap energy needs are sorely needed. In a phone call to reporters, Gates said, “We need to scour the landscape and find some things that have been otherwise missed.” (1)

According to the BEV website, the board will fund projects based on four criteria: 1) climate impact; 2) other investments; 3) scientific possibility; and 4) filling the gaps. The website touts "A Wealth of Opportunities" for those looking to apply for funding, with five grand challenges branching out into 55 areas of interest, from solar power and storage to reducing methane output of cows to manufacturing with a zero-carbon footprint. "Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we're open-minded to," said Gates. (2)

The five grand challenges are:

  • Electricity: How can we deliver reliable, affordable zero-carbon electricity to the world?
  • Agriculture: How can we feed the planet without contributing to climate change?
  • Buildings: How can we eliminate emissions from our homes, offices, hospitals, and schools?
  • Transportation: How can we get around our communities and the world without emitting carbon?
  • Manufacturing: How can we making everything we use without emitting greenhouse gasses?

BEV is not currently considering investment opportunities, but the website notes, "When our team is assembled and we are ready to evaluate proposals, we will post more information on our website about how best to engage." So, if you are interested in getting your piece of the $1 billion pie, keep your eyes on the Breakthrough Energy Ventures website next year at

News sources: 1 2 3