Bill Gates thinks the U.S. needs to invest more in energy technology R&D

WASHINGTON – Government and private-sector investments in new energy technologies have stagnated in recent years, and that’s bad news for U.S. competitiveness and the environment.

So concludes a report by the American Energy Innovation Council, a group comprised of six heavy hitters from the business world, ranging from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The report found that federal government investments in energy research, development and demonstration projects have been flat for the past five years. Meanwhile, 10 major countries are investing more in energy R&D, as a percentage of their economies, than the U.S. Chinese investment in new energy technologies is three times that of the U.S. as a share of GDP.

“To solve the world’s energy and climate challenges we need hundreds of new ideas and hundreds of companies working on them,” Gates said. “That is not going to happen without the U.S. government’s continued tradition of leadership in R&D.”

“We believe it is deeply in America’s economic and security interests to double or triple long-term R&D investments,” said council member Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin. “But these investments simply aren’t happening right now. We urge this to become a critical priority for the new Congress, the president and leaders of both parties.”

Tight federal budgets are one reason why energy technology R&D has stagnated, but you can blame politics as well. Solyndra’s headlines-grabbing failure obscured successes in the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, for example. The default rate for these loan guarantees was only 4 percent, well below what was projected, the report noted.

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