去年年底，亿万富翁比尔·盖茨在接受《大西洋月刊》采访时宣布，他计划在绿色能源领域投资20亿美元。此外，他还呼吁私有经济领域的其他亿万富翁加入 这个行列，帮助美国在2050年以前终结使用化石燃料的历史。但同时盖茨也坦率承认，私营部门过于自私低效，若没有政府研发的帮助，不可能独立应对气候变 化带来的挑战。
“这不是个赚钱的领域。即使你找到了新能源，并将其成本降到跟今天的化石燃料一样，而且不排放二氧化碳，它也难以与传统能源竞争。因为后者经过实践反 复验证，应用规模大得不可思议，在行业监管面前轻车熟路。相比之下，新能源有太大的不确定性，”盖茨说：“如果不征收高额碳排放税，便无法形成激励机制， 促使创新者或厂方转型使用新能源。”
盖茨告诉《大西洋月刊》：“刚准备投资新能源的时候，我脑子里想的是，‘能源部研发经费花的合理吗？’我担心的是：‘如果我呼吁给能源部增加一倍的预 算，结果他们花的钱没有体现价值，那怎么办？’但在深入调查后我发现，国防高等研究计划署把经费分配得非常好，用于基础科学研究的钱也花在了刀刃上。这些 研究中心成就卓越，政府应该增设一倍这样的中心，拨给他们四倍的钱。”
“数字技术领域比较难回到政府主导研发的路子上去，因为现在大多数研发已转移到私营部门。但最初，互联网是政府研究项目的产物，集成电路工厂也是政府 搞的。直至今天，政府还是会出资资助一些尖端领域科研，并拨款确保高校有良好的知识基础和人才储备，保持科技领先地位。因此我认为，美国政府在支持研发上 做得非常好。”
比尔·盖茨口中“成就卓越”的研究中心，是美国国家科学基金会出资建设的可再生能源求精中心（Center of Excellence in Renewable Energy）。2014年，美国国家科学基金会运营资金约71亿美元，联邦政府资金有1/4来自这里，它为超过2000所高校学府、中小学、非营利和公 司企业的研究项目提供资助。受该基金会资助的研究项目产生了超过200位诺贝尔奖获得者，仅在过去的5年中就产生了26位。基金会每年都收到超过 40000份研究计划书，但只能为其中约11000个项目提供经费。比尔·盖茨希望大幅提升这笔资金的总额。
今年七月，德国创造了一项新纪录，全国发电量的78%来自可再生能源，打破了2014年5月74%的纪录。德国电力需求总量为61.1千兆瓦，其中利 用风能和太阳能发电40.65千兆瓦，生物质发电4.85千兆瓦，水力发电2.4千兆瓦，绿色能源发电量共计47.9千兆瓦。在过去的一年里，德国的二氧 化碳排放量减少了4.3%。这意味着，德国温室气体排放量达到自1990以来的最低点。
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, billionaire tech magnate Bill Gates announced his game plan to spend $2 billion of his own wealth on green energy investments, and called on his fellow private sector billionaires to help make the U.S. fossil-free by 2050. But in doing so, Gates admitted that the private sector is too selfish and inefficient to do the work on its own, and that mitigating climate change would be impossible without the help of government research and development.
“There’s no fortune to be made. Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems,” Gates said. “Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.”
Gates even tacked to the left and uttered words that few other billionaire investors would dare to say: government R&D is far more effective and efficient than anything the private sector could do.
“Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area,” Gates said. “The private sector is in general inept.”
“When I first got into this I thought, ‘How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget?’ And I was worried: ‘Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that?’” Gates told The Atlantic. “But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these ‘Centers of Excellence.’ They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do.”
In making his case for public sector excellence, the Microsoft founder mentioned the success of the internet:
“In the case of the digital technologies, the path back to government R&D is a bit more complex, because nowadays most of the R&D has moved to the private sector. But the original Internet comes from the government, the original chip-foundry stuff comes from the government—and even today there’s some government money taking on some of the more advanced things and making sure the universities have the knowledge base that maintains that lead. So I’d say the overall record for the United States on government R&D is very, very good.”
The ‘Centers for Excellence’ program Bill Gates mentioned is the Center for Excellence in Renewable Energy (CERE), which is funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF, which operated with roughly $7.1 billion in 2014, is the source of one-fourth of federal funding for research projects at over 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 schools, nonprofits, and businesses. The NSF has even funded research by over 200 Nobel laureates, including 26 in just the last 5 years alone. The NSF receives more than 40,000 proposals each year, but only gets to fund about 11,000 of them. Bill Gates wants this funding to be dramatically increased.
“I would love to see a tripling, to $18 billion a year from the U.S. government to fund basic research alone,” Gates said. “Now, as a percentage of the government budget, that’s not gigantic… This is not an unachievable amount of money.”
As evidence around the world shows, the U.S. doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be a green energy juggernaut — it can simply look to currently-existing examples in countries with socialist policies — like Germany and China, for instance — on how to become a leader in green energy. And according to Bill Gates, the rest of the world will follow the lead if the biggest countries set the bar.
“The climate problem has to be solved in the rich countries,” Gates said. “China and the U.S. and Europe have to solve CO2 emissions, and when they do, hopefully they’ll make it cheap enough for everyone else.”
This past July, Germany set a new record by generating 78 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, beating its previous record of 74 percent in May of 2014. Germany generated 40.65 gigawatts from wind and solar energy, 4.85 gigawatts from biomass, and 2.4 gigawatts from hydropower, for a total of 47.9 gigawatts of green energy when total electricity demand was at 61.1 gigawatts. Over the past year, Germany decreased its CO2 output by 4.3 percent. This means greenhouse gas emissions in Germany are at their lowest point since 1990.
But in terms of raw investment, China’s $80 billion green energy investment is more than both the U.S. ($34 billion) and Europe ($46 billion), combined. And those investments are already paying dividends. While coal is still China’s biggest source of electricity, the world’s biggest polluter aims to have its use of fossil fuels peak in 2030, and trend downward after that. Additionally, China’s solar production outpaces all other countries combined.
Between 2000 and 2012, China’s solar energy output increased dramatically from 3 megawatts to 21,000 megawatts. And its solar output increased by 67 percent between 2013 and 2014 alone. In 2014, China actually managed to decrease its CO2 emissions by 1 percent, with further reductions expected in the coming years.
China also powers more homes with wind energy than every nuclear power plant in the U.S. put together. China’s wind output provided electricity to 110 million homes in 2014, as its wind farms generated 16 percent more power than in 2013, and 77 gigawatts of additional wind power are currently under construction. China’s energy grid is currently powered by 100 gigawatts of green energy, and aims to double green energy output to 200 gigawatts by 2020.
Bill Gates wants the U.S. to be an additional green energy leader, and expresses hope that there may still be enough time for the U.S. to take green energy investment seriously, and that the public sector can be instrumental in preventing a 2-degree increase in global temperatures.
“I don’t think it’s hopeless, because it’s about American innovation, American jobs, American leadership, and there are examples where this has gone very, very well,” Gates said.