Not content with owning digital, technology’s masters of the universe are turning their attention to renewable energy sources. The coming together of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Marc Benioff and Jack Ma - to name just five - sounds like some sort of rock supergroup equivalent but their intention is very serious: to find sources of renewable energy under the Mission Innovation initiative across 20 countries.
You might think that this was the job of governments, science and academia but the tech billionaires clearly see a role for a public-private partnership.
“Success requires a partnership of increased government research, with a transparent and workable structure to objectively evaluate those projects, and committed private-sector investors willing to support the innovative ideas that come out of the public research pipeline,” they wrote on the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
The group, packing financiers like George Soros, cross-industry entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson, and other luminaries from around the world, is nothing if not high-powered and it reads like a list of attendees at an elite Davos party. Also, it’s notable how many of the initial group come from an ICT background and how few have practical experience in renewables. Perhaps this techie core is intended to address an issue of velocity raised on Mission Innovation’s home page:
“While important progress has been made in cost reduction and deployment of clean energy technologies, the pace of innovation and the scale of transformation and dissemination remains significantly short of what is needed.”
How serious a development is the Coalition? It’s hard not be sceptical. This is a gathering of some of the world’s most wealthy people but most have big commitments to their businesses and philanthropic organisations, and presumably will not want to give away most of their enormous financial assets. But as a way to accelerate and globalise research and development? It’s possible but we’ll need to see more evidence of who will be running this show and how significant their commitment is.
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