President Obama, or at least his Twitter account, weighed in overnight on the news that Bill Gates and more than 20 other business and technology leaders are launching a $1 billion venture fund to invest in companies developing cutting-edge energy technologies, in a quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to near-zero.
Great to see so many investors come together to work towards a clean energy future. It's a smart investment and it's good for the planet. https://t.co/X8pBb1NAmL
— President Obama (@POTUS44) December 13, 2016
It’s the latest nod to Gates from Obama, who awarded Bill and Melinda Gates the Presidential Medal of Freedom last month.
But in this case, the implications of a U.S. president’s opinion are more than ceremonial. Although the new Breakthrough Energy Ventures initiative is a private investment fund, Gates emphasized in the announcement the importance of building on “the powerful foundation of public investment in basic research.”
In a conference call on Monday with reporters, Gates and other leaders of the group were asked about the future of government research and development funding for energy projects under President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration. Trump today named Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his pick for U.S. Secretary of State.
Gates said on the call, “What’s going to happen in the U.S. under the new administration isn’t clear,” but he added, “I do think there’s a chance that the R&D piece could even go up, because I think you make a very strong case that energy R&D is a great deal in terms of jobs, exports, and American leadership, as well as energy security. I think all of us in the coalition will lend our voices, whatever opportunities we get, that even if you don’t directly look at the climate change piece of this, that the energy investing makes sense.”
Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist who is on the board of the fund, added, “Given that it’s a 20-year fund, it should be independent of any administration. I think it’s very early to tell what this administration will do, and if we can prove it creates jobs, we’ll get good results.”
The new Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund is an outgrowth of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, announced by Gates and other tech heavyweights a year ago. The fund’s board includes Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma, Silicon Valley venture capitalists John Doerr and Khosla, energy investor John Arnold, and SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner. Investors in the fund include Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.