Bill Gates: His Energy Footprints Go Far Beyond DOS


Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in ESS Weekly in July 2016.

I know it might not be politically correct in a profession overrun with Apple lovers, but I am a rock-ribbed Bill Gates fan. This is partially because I was a PC person from the DOS days of BASICA and Word 1, but today I find it is his approach to problem-solving rooted in common sense—all too often missing in the rush to meet challenges that threaten to overwhelm us—that draws me into his web.
I don’t know how many are aware of a work written under the byline, Our 2016 Annual Letter, by Bill and Melinda Gates, housed on the Web under the innocuous sounding URL,, but if its existence is news to you, allow me to suggest that you take the time to check it out.

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In his portion of this year’s missive titled More Energy, Gates addresses the problem of reducing carbon emissions to zero by the end of the century, pointing out that in 2015 the world emitted 36 billion tons of CO2 to produce energy…a number that is all but incomprehensible to me, even when I relate it to something closer to home such as, “Hey, dude. That’s only five tons per person per year.”

Rather than wandering around in a sea of hairy dilemmas, Gates develops an equation:

P x S x E x C = CO2

P is population (rising)
S is services (also rising)
E is the energy needed per service (decreasing marginally)
C is the amount of carbon (emitted for each unit of energy)

The beauty of such a simple equation is that it helps you—me at least—appreciate where and where not to find solutions, where we need to bend our efforts, and the importance not only in what we’re doing with renewables today, but that these are stepping stones to an energy future whose features are only now beginning to come into view.

Through its ability to move energy forward through time, storage as we know it today is one of those stones that will give us a foothold for our next step. For more on this journey let me suggest that you see what other ideas await you in the Gates Annual Letter. 

  • Peter Peuron.

    Very nice. What stands out to me is that the most effective thing we can do to lower CO2 levels is slow population growth (P in the equation). No one ever talks about this. And what other problems might be be solving if we did that? How about the effect it would have on air pollution, water pollution, poverty, traffic congestion and starvation (around 21,000 people starve to death every day and about twice that die indirectly from lack of food). But no one talks about it. Thanks for the article.

    • John T.

      Peter, Thank you for responding. It seems that the most effective curb to population growth is education and its attendant increase in personal wealth. Current estimates by the UN and World Bank show Chinese and Indian populations to have stabilized and be on a downward trend by the end of the Century, while Africa’s population will continue to increase for some time beyond then. The key to there may well lie in developing energy resources to serve the ~2 billion people on the continent currently without.


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