Likely lost in the buzz of the recent presidential election was a December 2016 announcement by Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corp. and billionaire philanthropist, about a clean-technology fund he has set up with like-minded investors. These individuals include Jeff Bezos of Amazon; Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City; Richard Branson of Virgin Group; and Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, China’s leading e-commerce site. Altogether, 20 business leaders from the United States and around the world are investing in the fund. Twenty countries have also partnered with the fund; however, the United States is not one of them.
The more than US$1 billion-dollar fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, is, as Gates describes it, designed to support “scientific breakthroughs that have the potential to deliver cheap and reliable clean energy to the world.” His belief in the need for affordable, environmentally-conscious energy is driving his search for a different way to invest in innovation.
The investors have a high tolerance for risk and realize the breakthrough process is long, but to help minimize the risk, they are learning from the mistakes of other recent ventures and are using funds carefully—investing mainly in research first to see the potential of the venture before other investments are made.
Here are several ways the Breakthrough Energy Ventures could eventually affect building service contractors (BSCs) as well as building owners and managers.
The investment in clean energy might lead to lower energy costs for facilities and businesses.
If—or when—cleaner energy sources are developed, we can begin to reduce the number of greenhouse gasses released from these buildings and contribute to reducing overall energy consumption, and in turn, the cost of energy consumption. For building managers, that would mean more money to upgrade facilities and reduce energy consumption even further.
Recent reports indicate that California now has a glut of daytime electricity produced by household, government, business, and industrial solar installations. The challenge now is figuring out how to save all this energy for evening use.
Fuel costs are a significant expense for all BSCs, especially larger companies with many workers. As these costs come down, BSCs can more competitively engage in bidding and pricing. In turn, the lower energy costs will also open new doors with clients and encourage more BSCs to focus on the sustainability of their companies, especially as it applies to their staff.
Sustainability-focused BSCs pay their employees fairly, take steps to ensure worker safety, provide benefits like healthcare, and offer opportunities for advancement in pay and rank. Lower costs could help provide BSCs with the necessary funds to turn cleaning work from a paycheck into a career. And when this happens, everyone benefits. Employees who see their jobs as careers are far more focused on their company’s growth, development, and on satisfying the customer; it’s a win-win situation.
Lastly, according to a recent report by The New York Times, approximately 750,000 people were working in renewable energy industries in 2016. These jobs did not exist a decade or so ago, and these numbers are expected to rise with the help of Gates’s new fund. This will help our economy, which will assist the building industry and brightens the future for those in the custodial and facilities management industries.