TR: The Gates Foundation has invested in solutions to big problems like infectious diseases in poor countries. Providing clean energy for the nine billion people the planet will hold in 2050 is a problem that's civilizational in scale. What can philanthropy contribute to energy research?
Bill Gates: Well, basically not much. The energy market is an absolutely gigantic market, big enough that if you can come up with cheap ways of making electricity, then that should be done with typical big-firm risk taking, small-firm risk taking. On the other hand, the way capitalism works is that it systemically underfunds innovation, because the innovators can't capture the full benefits [of their innovations]. But there's a net benefit to society being more R&D-oriented. And that's why in health research, governments do fund R&D
TR: You are a member of the American Energy Innovation Council, which calls for a national energy policy that would increase U.S. investment in energy research every year from $5 billion to $16 billion. I was stunned that the U.S. government invests so little.BG: I was stunned myself. The National Institutes of Health invest a bit more than $30 billion.