Technology will help solve our energy issues, feed the world, and produce goods without emitting greenhouse gases. The urgency of climate change and the energy needs in the poorest parts of the world require an aggressive global program for zero-emission energy innovation. The new model will be a partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors. Scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs can invent and scale the innovative technologies that will limit the impact of climate change while providing affordable and reliable energy to everyone. The existing system of basic research, clean energy investment, regulatory frameworks, and subsidies fails to mobilize sufficient investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future. We can’t wait for the system to change through normal cycles.
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is committed to helping accelerate the cycle of innovation through investment, partnership, and thought leadership. Many members of the Coalition are joining Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an effort designed to invest in early stage innovations and help build the new companies that will deliver emissions-free energy, agriculture, and goods to the world. Others are investing in other ways.
The foundation of this program must be large funding commitments for basic and applied research, and here governments play the key role. Only our governments have both the mandate to protect the public interest and the resources and mechanisms to do this. We know government investment in research can lead to the creation of industries driven by private capital that advance the common good. We have seen big successes before, 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. The political will is emerging to do this again, through aggressive increases in government funding for basic and applied energy research into breakthrough technologies for our energy future. However, current governmental funding levels for clean energy are simply insufficient to meet the challenges before us.
Government research, however, is not enough. We must also add the skills and resources of leading investors with experience in driving innovation from the lab to the marketplace. The private sector knows how to build companies, evaluate the potential for success, and take the risks that bring innovative ideas to the world. But the risk-reward balance for early-stage investing in potentially transformative energy systems is unlikely to meet the market tests of traditional angel or VC investors until the underlying economics of the energy sector shift further towards clean energy. Experience indicates that even the most promising ideas face daunting commercialization challenges and a nearly impassable Valley of Death between promising concept and viable product. Neither government funding nor conventional private investment can bridge this gap.
This collective failure can be addressed, in part, by a dramatically scaled-up public research pipeline, linked to a different kind of private investor who is willing to put truly patient and flexible risk capital to work in service of a long term commitment to new technologies. Those investors will certainly be motivated in part by the possibility of making meaningful returns over the long-term, but also by the criticality of an energy transition. Success will provide the economic proof points necessary for the mainstream market-driven clean energy economy that our planetary future requires.
The members of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition are committed to doing our part and filling this capital need. We are forming a network of private capital in a structure that allows informed decisions to move the world toward an advanced energy future. Success requires a partnership of increased government research in a transparent, workable structure that can evaluate projects objectively, and committed private-sector investors willing to support the innovative ideas that come out of the public research pipeline.Who We Are
The most transformative ideas are emerging out of research institutions; the challenge is in getting these ideas out of the lab and on the path to commercialization. We’ll take a flexible approach to early stage companies, providing seed, angel and Series A investments, with the expectation that once these investments have matured, traditional commercial capital will invest in the later stages.
We don’t know where the best ideas will come, so we’ll invest across a number of sectors
— Electricity generation and storage
— Industrial Use
— Energy system efficiency
We are looking for outliers both in developing novel technologies and in enabling current technologies to be dramatically cheaper, more scalable, or more efficient. Whether core or enabling technology, the key differentiating factor must be a credible pathway to rapid scaling—providing affordable energy to the greatest number of people without overburdening essential resources, including land and water use
One of the challenges to effective financing in this area is a lack of depth in terms of technical review and analysis of underlying science to guide investment decisions. To tackle this, we will work with a coalition of the world’s best minds, in partnership with leading public and private institutions, to guide investment decision-making.
Because the foundation of these innovations will likely come through government research pipelines, we will focus our investments on those countries that have committed to increase the size of those pipelines by participating in the international initiative known as Mission Innovation. Those countries are making a serious commitment to using smart government spending to increase the rate of innovation in their domestic sector while helping the world find solutions to the serious problems created by climate change, high costs of power, and energy price volatility.
To provide reliable and affordable power without contributing to climate change we need to address emissions in five key areas: electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings. We have mapped out a landscape of innovation that we believe will help humanity meet those challenges.