Bill Gates is leading a more than $1 billion fund focused on fighting climate change by investing in clean energy innovation.


The Microsoft co-founder and his all-star line-up of fellow investors plan to announce tomorrow the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which will begin making investments next year. The BEV fund, which has a 20-year duration, aims to invest in the commercialization of new technologies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in areas including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial processes, agriculture, and energy-system efficiency.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” says Gates, who is serving as chairman of BEV and anticipates being actively involved. 

The directors of BEV include Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, former energy hedge fund manager John Arnold, and SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner. The combined net worth of the directors is nearly $170 billion, based on estimates of their individual wealth by Bloomberg and Forbes.

Gates had last year announced his intention to personally invest an additional $1 billion in clean energy technology. He was also among the 28 wealthy individuals and families signed on to the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group broadly committed to investing in this area. The new fund, which includes many of them, is a next, concrete step toward actually deploying their capital. 

Gates says that he’s been surprised that technology innovation isn’t discussed more as a solution to climate change, since clean-energy advances could limit any economic trade-offs from switching off carbon-emitting fossil fuels. “All of that takes place just as a normal market mechanism as you replace energy sources with other ways to do it,” he says.

But a recent wave of clean energy technology investing turned out miserably for many venture capital investors, with one study estimating that VC firms invested over $25 billion from 2006 to 2011 and lost more than half that money. Institutional investment in this area has remained limited as a result, which Gates and his fellow investors describe as a market failure that large-scale, long-term private investments can address.

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