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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
A Bill Gates-led venture fund that invests in next-wave climate technologies wants to get bigger.
The big picture: Gates, chair of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, said Monday that the $1 billion fund that began investing in 2017 plans to raise another $1 billion to $1.5 billion late next year.
Why it matters: The billionaire Microsoft co-founder has long argued that deeply decarbonizing economies will require major innovations beyond existing clean technologies.
What's next: “We have plenty of money to invest through 2020 and the way we do it is, we leave a lot of money aside for follow-on investments in the current companies,” Gates told me and Axios' Amy Harder in an interview Monday.
The intrigue: BEV is exploring hydrogen, which has not lived up to the expectations that advocates had earlier this century. "Hydrogen is very expensive," Gates said.
The big picture: He's a deep-pocketed and sometimes controversial player in the climate world.
Yes, but: Gates said his policy goals, including a carbon tax, encompass innovation and deployment.
Gates tells Axios he has no problem with large tech players — including Microsoft — offering business lines tailored specifically to oil industry clients.
Why it matters: Those products — such as Amazon's cloud computing services for oil companies and Microsoft's partnership with ExxonMobil — are coming under increasing criticism.
But, but, but: Gates told Axios that he doesn't see a problem with it, arguing that tech players should not be instruments of energy policy, and also said U.S. oil production helps energy security.
Plenty of Democrats have supported natural gas as a way to kick coal out of the U.S. energy mix over the past several years, but that’s rapidly changing, Axios' Amy Harder reports.
Why it matters: Natural gas, while far cleaner than coal and oil, is still a fossil fuel that emits heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming.
The big picture: As I’ve written in two recent Harder Line columns, Democrats, including 2020 White House hopefuls, are embracing tougher climate policies while rejecting natural gas, along with oil and coal. But this hasn’t always been the case.
Flashback: Positions by two prominent Democrats — Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — illustrate the overall party’s shift away from natural gas.
But, but, but: Earlier this month Bloomberg launched a $500 million campaign to halt construction of new natural gas plants alongside shutting down coal plants, which had previously been a years-long effort for him.
Axios' Dion Rabouin reports ... Solar panels? For investors in solar power stocks and ETFs so far this year, it's been more like solar profits.
What's happening: Invesco's solar ETF, up 51% year-to-date, has returned about 4 times the S&P 500's gain for 2019 and has even delivered almost double the average return of other clean energy ETFs, after a tough 2018.
By the numbers: A new report from WoodMac and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) finds that Q1 saw U.S. solar installations (combined utility-scale, residential, commercial and more) rise 10% versus the same period in 2018.
The intrigue: Solar stock prices have outpaced other renewable energy options thanks to major pickups in residential installation of solar panels, particularly in the South.
Yes, but: Non-residential installations fell to the lowest quarterly level since Q1 2017, dropping for a second year in a row. The report suggests policy shifts in states like California, Massachusetts and Minnesota may be stifling commercial growth.
A short paper from an Oxford Institute for Energy Studies researcher looks at China's soaring demand for natural gas and ways it could meet growing import reliance.
Why it matters: China has become the world's largest gas importer as demand has greatly outpaced domestic production, as the chart above shows.
The big picture: "While China has few short-term options to mitigate the strategic vulnerabilities associated with rising seaborne supplies, it may increasingly turn to Russia as a source of imported gas," he writes.
The Financial Times ($) reports ... "Japan has bowed to US pressure by watering down commitments to tackling climate change in its draft G20 communiqué, a sign of how Tokyo is seeking to curry favour with Washington amid tense trade talks and concerns over North Korea."
Where it stands: Per FT, the joint summit statement is slated to omit the words “global warming” and “decarbonisation,” and emphasize the Paris climate agreement less than prior communiques.
Why it matters: While these summit communiques are rather symbolic, it's a sign of how the Trump administration's sharp break with former President Obama is complicating climate diplomacy at a time when advocates want much stronger ambition.
But, but, but: The story notes that the document could change a lot before it's finalized. The G20 meets on June 28–29 in Japan.