Home » Innovating to Zero: Bill Gates (Full Transcript)

Innovating to Zero: Bill Gates (Full Transcript)

So let’s think: How should we measure ourselves? What should our report card look like? Well, let’s go out to where we really need to get, and then look at the intermediate.

For 2050, you’ve heard many people talk about this 80% reduction. That really is very important, that we get there. And that 20% will be used up by things going on in poor countries — still some agriculture; hopefully, we will have cleaned up forestry, cement.

So, to get to that 80%, the developed countries, including countries like China, will have had to switch their electricity generation altogether.

The other grade is: Are we deploying this zero-emission technology, have we deployed it in all the developed countries and are in the process of getting it elsewhere? That’s super important. That’s a key element of making that report card.

Backing up from there, what should the 2020 report card look like? Well, again, it should have the two elements. We should go through these efficiency measures to start getting reductions: The less we emit, the less that sum will be of CO2, and therefore, the less the temperature.

But in some ways, the grade we get there, doing things that don’t get us all the way to the big reductions, is only equally, or maybe even slightly less, important than the other, which is the piece of innovation on these breakthroughs.

These breakthroughs, we need to move those at full speed, and we can measure that in terms of companies, pilot projects, regulatory things that have been changed.

There’s a lot of great books that have been written about this. The Al Gore book, “Our Choice,” and the David MacKay book, “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air.” They really go through it and create a framework that this can be discussed broadly, because we need broad backing for this.

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There’s a lot that has to come together. So this is a wish. It’s a very concrete wish that we invent this technology. If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years — I could pick who’s president, I could pick a vaccine, which is something I love, or I could pick that this thing that’s half the cost with no CO2 gets invented — this is the wish I would pick. This is the one with the greatest impact.

If we don’t get this wish, the division between the people who think short term and long term will be terrible, between the US and China, between poor countries and rich, and most of all, the lives of those two billion will be far worse.

So what do we have to do? What am I appealing to you to step forward and drive? We need to go for more research funding. When countries get together in places like Copenhagen, they shouldn’t just discuss the CO2. They should discuss this innovation agenda.

You’d be stunned at the ridiculously low levels of spending on these innovative approaches. We do need the market incentives — CO2 tax, cap and trade — something that gets that price signal out there.

We need to get the message out. We need to have this dialogue be a more rational, more understandable dialogue, including the steps that the government takes.

This is an important wish, but it is one I think we can achieve.

Thank you. Thank you.

Question-and-answer session

CHRIS ANDERSON: Thank you. Thank you. So to understand more about TerraPower. I mean, first of all, can you give a sense of what scale of investment this is?

BILL GATES: To actually do the software, buy the supercomputer, hire all the great scientists, which we’ve done, that’s only tens of millions. And even once we test our materials out in a Russian reactor to make sure our materials work properly, then you’ll only be up in the hundreds of millions.

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The tough thing is building the pilot reactor — finding the several billion, finding the regulator, the location that will actually build the first one of these. Once you get the first one built, if it works as advertised, then it’s just clear as day, because the economics, the energy density, are so different than nuclear as we know it.

CHRIS ANDERSON: So to understand it right, this involves building deep into the ground, almost like a vertical column of nuclear fuel, of this spent uranium, and then the process starts at the top and kind of works down?

BILL GATES: That’s right. Today, you’re always refueling the reactor, so you have lots of people and lots of controls that can go wrong, where you’re opening it up and moving things in and out — that’s not good.

So if you have very — very cheap fuel that you can put 60 years in — just think of it as a log — put it down and not have those same complexities. And it just sits there and burns for the 60 years, and then it’s done.

CHRIS ANDERSON: It’s a nuclear power plant that is its own waste disposal solution.

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