Bill Gates calls for creation of National Institutes of Energy Innovation to better address climate change

Wind power in Washington state. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In the midst of one global disaster, Bill Gates is thinking about how to prevent the next. And while the world clearly wasn’t prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Microsoft co-founder thinks there is one solution that could help address climate change.

In a new GatesNotes blog post on Thursday, the Microsoft co-founder is calling for a better national way to evaluate and nurture great ideas around clean energy research. Specifically, Gates would like to see the federal government create the National Institutes of Energy Innovation.

“This the most important thing the U.S. can do to lead the world in innovations that will solve climate change,” Gates said.

Rather than having research and ideas spread across departments such as Energy, Transportation, Defense and even NASA, Gates said the idea would follow the successful model demonstrated by the National Institutes of Health, which is the largest single funder of biomedical research in the world. “Its impact is simply mind-blowing,” he said, with a clear and specific mission driven by science rather than politics.

Gates, who has an upcoming book titled “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” listed a few specifics to guide the creation of the National Institutes of Energy Innovation:

  • Separate institutes focus on specific areas. An Institute of Transportation Decarbonization, for example, would have a mandate and budget to invent low-carbon fuels for hard-to-decarbonize activities such as aviation and maritime shipping. Other institutes would have similar responsibilities and authority for research on energy storage, renewables, carbon capture and management, and so on.
  • Each institute should be tasted with getting new products to market. It’s not enough to develop a new way to store electricity that works in the lab — to have any impact, it has to be practical and affordable in real-world settings. Scientists should be encouraged to start their research with an end-use in mind, with a system to make sure the best ideas make it to market and reach scale.
  • Locate institutes around the country. Similar to DOE national labs, spread the research around. There’s no good reason to limit the benefits of the innovation economy to Washington, D.C., or major research hubs like Boston and San Francisco.

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