It was a fair question for the moderator to ask Bill Gates what he was doing on stage at the third annual Energy Innovation Summit hosted by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
“If you look at the improvement of the human condition, it’s related to intensity of energy use,” Gates answered. To help raise the standard of living for the world’s poorest billion people, he argued that we need to find a way to use energy in a way that’s smarter, cleaner and more efficient.
And so began a chat between Bill Gates and U.S. Department of Energy secretary Steven Chu on how to do that. They agreed on many things, including the need for a forward-looking carbon tax decades from now (although Chu noted he doesn’t like to use the “T-word”).
The gentlemen disagreed, too, on how to secure a future when the regulatory industry that oversees the power sector moves so slowly. “It’s hard to plan ahead if it takes 10 years to get permitting,” Gates said. Chu noted it was an issue his department is working on.
At the Energy Innovation Summit, all of the keynote speakers were optimistic. Unlike last year, huge military dollars have not been announced to help support ARPA-E projects, although the White House recently committed $30 million to the agency for alternative fuels.
Instead, the young agency noted that it is already seeing advancements, from Sheetak refrigerators being sold in India to the possibility that genetically modified tobacco could be the key to the energy future. “You’d have Big Oil and Big Tobacco come together and save the world,“ said an always upbeat Arun Majumdar, director and of ARPA-E. “You just can’t get better than that.”