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Over the past month, there have been a lot of stories written about Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Most of the buzz surrounds the chairman, Bill Gates. But if you’ve been reading SimpleSolar.info, you’ve come to realize that we don’t just recycle the hot news at the moment. We ask: What does this mean to the average person? How does this impact the future of solar and renewable energy? We’re going to analyze Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in particular Breakthrough Energy Partners and Breakthrough Energy Coalition from this standpoint.

Breakthrough Energy Coalition\Ventures – The Same But Different

Before we can answer the questions – What do BEP and BEC mean to the average person? And how does this impact the future of solar and renewables? – we have to first understand what these organizations are.

If you go to b-t.energy’s website, you’ll find they speak about both Coalition and Ventures. The description of what both does even sounds similar. But there are differences.

Breakthrough Energy Coalition is comprised of organizations and individual people who are concerned about or have a vested interest in renewable energy. Some of the people on this list are: Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Founder, Chairman, CEO Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Founder, CEO Amazon), Meg Whitman (CEO Hewlett Packard Enterprises), Sir Richard Branson (Founder Virgin Group), Michael Bloomberg (CEO Bloomberg LP) and more.

As you can see from the membership of the coalition, it is diverse. The goal of the coalition is to discover new energy technologies from both the private and public sectors with the goal of producing clean, reliable and affordable energy.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures is described as “one of those investment vehicles that a majority of the BEC has created to invest science focused, patient, and flexible capital in new companies that show promise to fulfilling the BEC mission.” Think of it this way: If renewable energy was a football or baseball team, the coalition would be the scouting agent who finds the talent. The ventures would be the general manager who provides the money to let the talent do its thing.

Why Is BEV Important

As we stated at the outset, we don’t just want to repeat what every other outlet is reporting. We seek to find the practical benefit behind the story. This one is so obvious that it could easily get overlooked.

BEV stands for Breakthrough Energy Ventures. That means at some point, they expect to make a profit. This identifies the first reason why BEV is important – they exist to make money. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Shark Tank, you’ve seen that the Sharks have invested in things that held out promise even though the hopeful hasn’t sold one item. The investment wasn’t because of how much product was sold; it was in the potential for how much product could be sold.

The same is true here. BEV expects to make a profit. But they’re willing to wait. BEV legitimizes renewable energy. Renewable energy is no longer the wild hopes of Woodstock, hemp clothing wearing hippies. And just like Shark Tank, the goal is to build companies that make money in renewable energy.

The second reason why BEV is important stems from another statement on their website: “We have seen big successes in the past, with government-funded research programs in space, defense, technology, and medical research spurring private creativity to produce many of the innovations that define our current way of life.”

Many of the technologies we use every day came from “government-funded research programs”. We use them extensively. We give no thought to how they were developed. But they didn’t become practical for general consumption until private investors got involved. Want some examples? Try these on for size:

The Internet

Young people have grown up their entire lives with the Internet. But those of us old enough to remember know of a time when research meant going to the library, picking up the phone and calling a subject matter expert or some other energy expending effort. You wanted to send a letter to someone? Write it on a piece of paper, put it in the mail and hope you didn’t miss the day’s pickup, especially if that day was on a Friday or Saturday.

But did you know the Internet was a “government-funded research program”? That’s right; the Internet was originally developed for government researchers to share information and to coordinate military personnel around the planet. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when CompuServe and Netscape – private companies – joined the party along with others that the Internet began taking shape to become what you are reading this article on today.

Long-wear Radial Tires

All of us benefit from this invention. If you drive a car, rode a bus, flew on an airplane, you’ve been transported on radial tires. Did you know the technology for them was developed for a NASA project? Goodyear Tire and Rubber company developed the material for NASA to use to soft-land the Viking spacecrafts on Mars. Goodyear saw the value in this and applied to it radial tires to extend tread life over conventional radial tires. There are 25 other things we benefit from everyday you can check out on NASA’s website.  

Lithium-ion Batteries

Did you know that the battery that powers your cell phone, digital camera and pacemakers originally started out as a classified technology from the CIA? That’s right, the mobile tech revolution can be thanked, in part, to the CIA. The technology was “developed by CIA in the 1960s to improve the performance of surveillance equipment and prolong the operation of reconnaissance satellites”. The CIA’s contribution didn’t stop with batteries. Technology used to analyze satellite imagery is what is used to detect breast cancer.

Cancer Screening Equipment

Much of the technology we use today was developed for space exploration. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency developed a gamma-ray detector that measures “the wavelength and intensity of very high energy photons. This can be used in medicine as an extremely compact, innovative medical device much better than anything currently available.” The resulting technology enables “doctors to pinpoint cancer tumors previously too small to locate, and to burn them with a focused beam“.

Conclusion

The stories you’ll read on the Internet surrounding the Breakthrough Energy Investment Fund focus on Bill Gates. And that’s a good thing. Bill and Melinda Gates have done tremendous work around the world. Their name recognition is a good catalyst for getting the renewable message out. But that’s not the entire story.

As we’ve shown, public companies have taken “government-funded research programs” and expanded on them to create the lifestyle we enjoy today. Taking this same approach today can have the same effect on renewable energy. Having a venture capital fund that focuses on renewable energy means those projects being developed in universities, small companies and government-funded projects can get the capital they need to take their ideas from the lab to the streets.

Bill Gates said the organization is willing to wait as long as 20 years to see a return on investment. Hopefully, we’ll see a return sooner. To hear Bill Gates himself speak on what BEV is, how the idea came together and more, check out the video below.

 

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