Bill Gates urges government to spend more on energy R&D

Microsoft Chairman and co-founder Bill Gates urged the U.S. government and other countries on Thursday to spend more money on energy research and development as a catalyst to innovation that he believes will bring more options to people around the world.

“It’s an incredible travesty that we’re spending so little,” Gates, a billionaire philanthropist, said during a question-and-answer session at the IHS CERAWeek industry conference at the Hilton Americas downtown.

He said that the shortfall in government spending is a pitfall of capitalism.

“It’s always pretty stunning how low the energy (research and development) number is,” he said, adding, “We should put a lot more into basic research.”

Gates said some money is being spent on energy R&D, but largely outside of government.

“I think it’s fantastic for the world that this venture capital .. is focused on energy,” he said.

Gates said he would like to see more spending on solar energy and nuclear energy. He said he has always been interested in science.

“Energy is so darn interesting and so darn important,” he said.

But at times he admits he has been naive  — mentioning a former fascination with the elusive energy source nuclear fusion .

Gates said that with energy innovation comes risk, and when it comes to meeting the world’s energy needs, he believes more efforts are worth the risk.

“It’s an incredibly daunting field,” Gates said. “There are going to be a lot of failures.”

Gates said technology has led to a lot of advancements, including increasing lifespans, spreading literacy around the world, and offering greater opportunities. People once were tied to the land, he noted, and often didn’t survive through their twenties.

“I’d rather be doing this than scratching out 25 years and being a farmer,” he said.

Gates, who is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of Microsoft and prefers to focus on his philanthropy, said that even at the company he co-founded, there is room for more innovation.

“The dream of Microsoft has always been about software, the magic about software,” Gates said.

These days, however, there are a lot of players in the software and hardware field, and because of that competition, more innovation is the key to differentiating the company from the others, Gates said.

There were some light moments during his discussion at the conference.

Asked what his parents thought when he dropped out of Harvard, Gates said, “They were actually pretty good about it.”

But it was another story for Harvard.

“Harvard kept saying ‘Please come back,’” Gates said.