“I believe it is imperative that the government commit to clean energy innovation at a level similar to its research investments in health and defense.” –Bill Gates

In a recent editorial of Science magazine Bill Gates gave his full support for government investments in clean energy. His sentiments were akin to those of Bill Clinton, reported in a previous post.  The question they both address is this: In terms of the global clean energy economy, what does the United States bring to the table?

China surely brings their manufacturing strength and with the Chinese currently pumping out solar photovoltaic modules cheaper than ever, the U.S. may be hard-pressed to shoulder their way into the market if this was the only important consideration. However, both Gates and Clinton agree, the strength of the United States lies less in their manufacturing capacity and more in the great spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that permeates American culture. This could surely be harnessed to foster the development of novel clean energy technologies.

“The United States is uniquely positioned to lead in energy innovation, with great universities and national laboratories and an abundance of entrepreneurial talent,” Gates explains. However, the potential seems yet to be realized. Investment in energy innovation is declining.  The U.S. is spending less money spent on energy R&D than many of its competitors.  So what then is the solution?

Gates does not believe this is something to be left up to the market. He emphasizes that “…developing major new technologies, where the time frames necessary for true innovation stretch past the normal horizons of patent protection, requires up-front investments that are too large for venture capital and traditional energy companies.” Essentially, his point is that the federal government needs to step up to fill the funding void.

Furthermore, the focus of government funding can be for long-term gain, not only in its strictest monetary sense, but also “gains” in our relationship with the environment, in job creation and social well-being. This is especially relevant in the clean energy economy with the looming threat of climate change as it is in the “long-term” where we will continue to face the consequences of the decisions made today.

Full article at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6058/877.full

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)