Tech Billionaires Pitch In to Start New Green Energy Fund

Tech leaders want their new fund to complement government-backed initiatives that seek to develop new green technology.

A team of technology billionaire all-stars is huddling up to create a privately run green energy fund to help steer the world away from hydrocarbons to environmentally-friendly energy sources.

The key big names—and pocketbooks—are owned by Bill Gates (U.S., Microsoft), Richard Branson (U.K., Virgin Group), Jack Ma (China, Alibaba), Jeff Bezos (U.S., Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan (U.S., Facebook), Marc Benioff (U.S., Salesforce), and Meg Whitman (U.S., Hewlett-Packard Enterprise).

The introduction of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition fund was made on Day 1 of the Paris climate summit, which opened Nov. 29.

The tech leaders want their new fund to complement government-backed initiatives that seek to develop green technology to increase the output of energy on the planet while at the same time reducing the impact of the burning of fossil fuels.

Gates is the unofficial "quarterback" of this initiative. Go here to view a YouTube video of Gates talking about the project.

"Priscilla and I are joining Bill Gates in launching the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in new clean energy technologies," Zuckerberg wrote in his blog. "Solving the clean energy problem is an essential part of building a better world. We won't be able to make meaningful progress on other challenges—like educating or connecting the world—without secure energy and a stable climate. Yet progress towards a sustainable energy system is too slow, and the current system doesn't encourage the kind of innovation that will get us there faster."

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition will invest in ideas that have the potential to transform the way we all produce and consume energy, Zuckerberg wrote.

"We already invest in renewable and clean energy for our Facebook facilities today, but we believe that building a positive future for the next generation also means investing in long-term projects that companies and governments don't fund. This is an important focus for us, and we'll share more about it in the coming days," Zuckerberg said.

Government has been there in the past to fund the basic research for a green economy, but now the private sector has to step up, Gates said.
"That was (also) true of the digital revolution, where government contracts led to the Internet," Gates wrote in his blog. "We have to pair that with people who are willing to fund high-risk breakthrough energy companies. That formula will accelerate the innovation, the risk taking."

Gates said a major flaw in the pursuit of clean, green energy production is a so-called "Valley of Death" that lies in the process between concepts and resulting viable products. Thus, neither all-private nor all-public initiatives can succeed on their own, he said.

So the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is being created to "help promising approaches cross the Valley of Death"—reducing risk for the innovator and getting ideas out of the lab and into the field as soon as possible, Gates said.

A parallel government-oriented project, Mission Innovation, also was introduced at the Paris event. This is a commitment by several countries to invest increasing capital into clean-energy research.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...