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Bill Gates preps biggest clean energy fund 'in history'

Technology giant Bill Gates will unveil the world's largest clean energy research and development partnership on Monday, joining in Paris with other billionaires and world leaders, several sources told E&E.

The multibillion-dollar announcement will come at the opening day of landmark U.N. climate change negotiations in the French capital, and is expected to inject significant momentum to the talks.

According to government and business officials knowledgeable about the announcement, a group of developing and developed countries -- including the United States and India -- will agree to double their research and development budgets for clean energy and form a coalition to conduct joint work.

Gates and other billionaires, meanwhile, will pledge a pool of money to assist the cooperative projects. The exact spending amount was unclear yesterday, but one source put it in the billions of dollars.

"This is the single biggest cooperative research and development partnership in history," the source said.

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Added a former government official with knowledge of the deal, "This is the beginning of a broader effort to demonstrate that clean technology research and deployment will be the key to meeting the climate goals made in Paris."

Currently, the United States spends about $5 billion annually in energy research and development, according to figures provided to the coalition.

Hal Harvey, chief executive of clean energy consultancy Energy Innovation, described that amount as paltry for what's needed, saying the United States spends more on potato chips and "at least that much defending oil fields in the Middle East" each year.

Harvey declined to discuss details of the Gates announcement. But, he said, boosting public money for research, development and especially deployment can unlock economic development at home and ease energy poverty abroad while lowering costs of zero-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels.

"It's spectacular what public research and development has created in this country. You cannot name a single technology that hasn't had a huge boost [from public funding]," he said. Noting clean energy is a $5 trillion market, Harvey added, "We're not going to be in it if we don't decide R&D is one of our core strengths."

A spokesperson with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation did not respond yesterday to requests for comment.

In August, the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist announced he would invest $1 billion of his fortune in renewable energy research over the next five years.

"I am doing it because I believe that the next half-decade will bring many breakthroughs that will help solve climate change," Gates said of his investment plan in a blog post. "We need to be able to power all sectors of the economy with sources that do not emit any carbon dioxide."

Gates also met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly where, French officials said, the two talked about climate change and the Paris summit.

While it's unclear what direct impact the announcement could have on the climate negotiations, observers said it could help ease the concerns of developing countries about finance. Poorer nations have pledged mitigation targets along with rich ones, but have said they need a bigger fiscal boost to make the still-costly transition to clean energy.

Twitter: @LFFriedman Email: lfriedman@eenews.net

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