Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said Tuesday he's personally involved in clean energy innovation, but it won't be a focus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since it's better suited to a capitalistic venture.
"The foundation is looking at things that are ignored, that there is no market for and that relate to the poorest," Gates said at a breakfast meeting about climate change and clean energy.
Some foundations work in agricultural touches on energy issues, "but by and large, most of the money I put into energy will be done on the private side," he said.
The event was sponsored by Climate Solutions, a Northwest-based nonprofit that promotes solutions to global warming. Its co-chairman is former Microsoft executive Jabe Blumenthal, who interviewed his former boss before about 1,200 people.
Gates said technological advances in clean energy are critical to fighting climate change, and that he wants to see an energy solution that is cheap and emits zero carbon emissions.
He noted how extreme weather can affect crop production for small-business farmers, or how the availability of oil can lead to security problems.
Gates pushed for more public investment in clean energy advances. As a member of the American Energy Innovation Council, Gates and other top business executives such as GE chief executive Jeff Immelt have lobbied the federal government to boost investments in clean energy research and development from $5 billion a year to $16 billion a year.
"President Obama did see us. He said nice things, and I think he meant them," Gates said, which got laughs from the audience.
"We're going to have to keep the pressure up on this," Gates said, noting that they may have been successful in a normal fiscal environment.
Gates has invested millions in nuclear energy start-ups like Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower, which is developing a nuclear reactor that can run on depleted uranium. But he said TerraPower is just "one of maybe a thousand cool companies that we need to get behind."
"It's hard, but it's very, very important, whether it's the competitiveness of our economy or what life is like for poor people on the plant. Energy innovation gets right up there," Gates said.