Gates Calls for Greater Investment in Energy, Health Innovation
A primary factor is that the innovation cycle for energy production can be extremely long, as much as 20 years, which is far longer than most private companies are willing to wait for a return. What this means, Gates said, is that there needs to be real investment in inexpensive, yet reliable, forms of energy that don't cause problems with pollution or warming. The problem with sources such as solar or wind is that you have to have an alternate supply. He noted that it would cost as much to build the infrastructure in developing nations for energy that would only be used part time as it would for full-time use. As a result, the overall cost of energy would be higher, even though solar or wind energy itself might be free. The answer, Gates said, is to create sources of energy that are reliable and available. The closest is nuclear energy, he said, but new reactor designs need to be developed so that the reactors are inherently safe to operate, so that if they fail, they fail into a safe mode. Gates added that he's hoping for advances in the development of fusion power. One problem with some areas of innovation is that it's not always easy or quick to know when your innovation is successful, according to Gates. We've been spoiled by quick successes in IT, where it's clear within three or four years whether an innovation will be successful, but in other areas, such as energy, it could take much longer, he said.Earlier in the day, Gates had spelled out his thinking regarding innovation in an op-ed piece in Reuters where he predicted a growth in innovation in energy and health care. His point in that article and in his remarks to the audience in Washington is that it will require the leadership of governments to enable the long-term innovation that's needed to solve those very thorny problems. Gates stated his call for greater innovation investment to a carefully chosen Washington audience that included mostly diplomats, economic analysts, staff from nonprofits and legislative staff. Gates wanted to start the ball rolling somewhere, and this was the place where his comments might do the most good.
Gates also took a few minutes to address the Zika virus that is causing illness and severe birth defects among people living in the world's tropical zones. While he didn't claim to have a cure, he did note that much of the work that the Gates Foundation is doing in controlling the vectors of infection, mostly mosquitoes, will make tackling that problem easier.