Inside a Seattle waterfront hub blanketed in wildfire smoke, climate tech innovators and investors gathered this week at the Breakthrough Energy Summit.
The event was an opportunity to share news about advanced technologies being developed and deployed to help save a warming Earth. They included milk proteins produced by plants, hydroelectric turbines safe for fish, jet fuel made from corn wasteand negative carbon cement.
The summit was organized by Revolutionary Energy, a Bill Gates-led initiative that provides funding, research, mentorship and policy support to decarbonize technology. The venture arm of the platform has raised over $2 billion in funding and invested in 105 companies. An additional $1 billion is being issued in grants and low-return capital to businesses under its catalyst program. Its fellowship initiative paired 63 business and innovation experts to develop fledgling technology.
One would expect an upbeat vibe at the event, which welcomed 700 attendees from around the world – and much of it was.
More than a dozen entrepreneurs exhibited their technologies and some of their planet-friendly food products were served in the conference meals. Venture capital’s growing appetite for climate- and clean-energy-related companies has sparked excitement, which last year attracted a record $64.6 billion in investment, according to PitchBook.
But enthusiasm for progress in the sector has been tempered by concerns over troubling current events. The war in Ukraine. Supply chain choke points. Economies in recession. Devastating floods in Pakistan. Many have warned that while the world is making progress in extracting carbon from the energy grid, transport, buildings, agriculture and manufacturing, it is not enough to meet scientifically-backed carbon reduction targets. .
The summit provided insights on climate progress and perspectives from leaders in business, government and venture capital. Here are some takeaways.
Bill Gates, founder of Breakthrough Energy and co-founder of Microsoft
Gates acknowledged the massive challenge of climate change, but mostly focused on progress.
- “Innovation is one of the last things bipartisan — new, more efficient ways of doing things, great new businesses, and great new jobs. Everyone’s for it,” he said. If we Were we to fight climate change only with mandates and expensive solutions, it wouldn’t work politically.
- The amount of talent dedicated to climate “will go up dramatically,” he said. “And be at the level of these other big areas – not going beyond digital or health, but joining them as a big area for investment and positive surprise.”
- “My belief in human ingenuity, even beyond the digital realm, has really been reinforced by the whole Breakthrough experience.”
Brad Smith, President of Microsoft
Smith spoke of the critical role of corporate action in climate change.
- Investing in clean energy and climate solutions, “for our business, our industry and for others, is becoming almost an indispensable part of a license to operate.”
- “The worst thing that can happen to us – or any industry – is to see some of the titles that have appeared in the UK over the last six months. There is a shortage of electricity. We have to decide if people can use it, or if computers [do]…. We have to think about the future,” Smith said.
- Going back to Gates’ leadership at Microsoft, “the company’s philosophy was that if we build the software now, the hardware will get there eventually,” he said. The company thought long term on software and is now doing the same on climate and clean energy investments.
John Kerry, US climate envoy and former Secretary of State
Kerry, who is on the front line of international climate policy, recognized the scale of the challenge the world faces to electrify essentially every aspect of modern life and run it on clean energy.
- “This is the biggest economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution, and possibly ever.”
- “I am convinced that we will arrive at a low-carbon economy. What I am not convinced of is that we will do it in the time that scientists have told us we must do to avoid the worst consequences of the crisis.
- Regarding the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 and global economic challenges, Kerry said, “It’s a tough time, but it will pass. We’re going to get through this and there’s a very large amount of money that is now circulating in venture capital.
Jennifer Granholm, US Secretary of Energy
Granholm promoted the three major U.S. climate bills that were passed during the Biden administration (Inflation Reduction Act (IRA); CHIPS and Science Act; and the bipartisan Infrastructure Act), and noted that ‘on a global scale, the war in Ukraine could contribute to the installation of clean systems. energy.
- “Climate is a sense of urgency. But energy security and being able to be independent of Russia is existential energy security. The combination of the two is an accelerator.
Larry Fink, CEO of investment firm BlackRock
Fink worries that too little money is being spent on climate solutions and called on global financial organizations, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to focus on clean technologies in low-income countries and intermediate.
- “If we really want to reshape the world, there just isn’t enough capital to change the emerging world,” he said. Legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act could quickly create new technologies to help low-income countries, but funding is an issue. “Right now, there’s actually less and less capital coming into the emerging world. It’s just a fact.
Eric Toone, Investment Committee Partner of Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV)
Toone, an entrepreneur and former professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duke University, gave a data-rich presentation on untapped technologies and the scale of the climate challenge.
- The options for responding to climate change are mitigation, which means reducing emissions; adaptation to a warmer world; and suffering, Toone said. “If I tell you that mitigation won’t get us there and that suffering is unacceptable, we just have to adapt. And so, while BEV’s primary focus will continue to be mitigation, we will now work on adaptation as part of our portfolio.
Editor’s note: Updated to add Toone comments.