Highlights of a conversation between Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates, and Secretary of the US Department of Energy, Steven Chu, at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit 2012.
Chu: “The combination of energy storage and robust photovoltaics is something that will go viral in the same way that cell phones went viral, not only in the developed world, but the developing world too. Perhaps the first thing you get if you have any sort of money in the developing world is a cell phone, and the cell phone leapfrogged past a transmission telephone network. We see photovolatics and batteries leapfrogging past the normal grid, and then you can bring this power to small villages to places where you can read at night, to run refrigerators where you can keep your medicines safe, to where you can run things to pump water for irrigation. We see this as a huge potential worldwide.”
Gates: “In my view energy research in the US is underfunded by a factor of two. I’d say that about ARPA-E, I’d say that about the Office of Science. The Secretary has a hard time making extreme statements like that. I’m more independent. I think it’s crazy how little we’re funding this energy stuff.
There’s no clear mapping between what you spend on R&D and how much you get out. For all we know there could be 4 or 5 companies that will come out with the pieces that are necessary that already have plenty of funds. I think it’s more likely that underfunding is delaying the pace of progress. And remember, failure rates here are going to be well over 90%. This is a very complex set of technologies and we need companies to be trying these things to increase the odds that we’ll have the 10 or 20 approaches that will get us the magic solution.”
Gates goes on to talk about nuclear power, the impact of super computers, his start-up TerraPower, and the importance of risk-taking.