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Construction Corner: Coalition aims to create the energy mix of the future

Korky Koroluk
Construction Corner: Coalition aims to create the energy mix of the future
Korky Koroluk

In the run-up to Christmas, when people were thinking about shopping and family get-togethers, it was easy to miss an announcement that, in time, could affect all of us.

Something called Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) was rolled out, an offshoot of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC).

The coalition was launched in December 2015 amid the euphoria that accompanied the signing of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

It’s an international group of investors committed to developing technologies that will create the energy mix of the future.

The energy ventures fund launched last month will have a 20-year lifespan, which the group believes will allow investors to achieve market success.

Many of the investors are well-known to Canadians. Bill Gates, who made his billions from Microsoft, is leading the charge. He is seen as the moving force behind the idea of getting a group of the world’s wealthiest people to put up more than $1 billion to finance clean energy innovations in the fight against climate change.

Other names you’ll recognize include Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon; Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group; philanthropist George Soros, and Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook.

When Gates, 61, retired from Microsoft, he and his wife Melinda formed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which for almost two decades concentrated on funding humanitarian causes, primarily fighting against diseases in which children are vulnerable.

Now Gates and his fellow philanthropists have devised a venture that "will finance emerging energy breakthroughs that can deliver affordable and reliable zero carbon emissions."

The announcement of the venture fund came at an opportune time. Just last week, a new study done at Duke University, in the United States, told us that the global spread of green technologies "must quicken significantly to avoid future rebounds in greenhouse gas emissions."

"Based on our calculations," the study’s lead author said, "we won’t meet the climate warming goals set by the Paris Agreement unless we speed up the spread of clean technology by a full order of magnitude, or about 10 times faster than in the past."

Couple that with the uncertainty about what the new administration in the U.S. may or may not do with the climate file, and it’s refreshing to see Gates and his wealthy friends stepping forward.

The energy coalition has defined a "landscape of innovation" with five main challenges: electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and buildings. One way or another, construction is involved in each of them.

Buildings, we are reminded, are responsible for about 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so "optimal building energy management approaches represent a significant opportunity for major emissions reductions through more efficient building operation."

In a section of notes on the group’s website, emphasis is given to the development and deployment of next-generation sensors, controls and energy-management systems in both new construction and retrofits.

"Although these technologies and systems exist today and are improving rapidly, they must become dramatically more affordable in order to be adopted at scale," the notes read.

The group’s website has many such must-do urgings.

What makes these different, though, is that the group is planning to fund research "in technologies with an existing scientific proof-of-concept that can be meaningfully advanced."

No political expediency. Just science.

In a video message posted online, Gates said, "The modern lifestyles we lead depend on a huge amount of energy," most of which is derived from polluting fossil fuels like coal, gasoline and natural gas, which, when burned, heat up the atmosphere and changes the climate.

"Government investment is important, but it is not enough to drive an energy revolution," he said.

For a more complete overview of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, readers can visit its website at

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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