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Innovative companies can make sustainability profitable

Bill Gates has recently announced a huge renewable energy fund called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Both private investors, like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Richard Branson (Virgin), as well as the US and Indian governments, among others, are rallying behind the initiative. The premise of the fund, according to Gates, is to accelerate the development of sustainable energy by investing in clean energy entrepreneurship, and thereby to also make a profit. Interesting, since ‘profit’ and ‘sustainability’ are not often mentioned in the same breath.

Those participating in the collective will jointly provide an injection of one billion dollars to companies that are bringing innovative energy ideas to market. Earlier, Bill Gates said he is convinced that the next 50 years will bring many technologies to help resolve climate issues. The challenges are immense, and that is why he believes we need new approaches. The belief is that these private companies can eventually bring about energy breakthroughs.

Clean and profitable
I am completely on board with this idea and I am glad that we are now looking at sustainability as a profitable business, rather than only as a cost center. If your business involves the development of technology to secure our energy supply in the coming centuries and it keeps the planet healthy, it follows that initiatives will become as clean as they are financially profitable. Because no matter how much companies care about the environment, there is also the need to put food on the table. It’s exactly on this point that the real energy innovation will occur.


A faster return on investment
Technology is the foundation of a sustainable future. It’s clear that alternative energy such as solar, wind and biofuels will be very important. But where the real advantage can be found is in the infrastructure supporting the mining of this energy, which should be as efficient and smooth as possible to increase revenues and quickly recoup investments. Currently, there are a lot of (expensive) windmills and solar panels needed to generate useful amounts of electricity. But maintenance of offshore wind turbines, in particular, is still very expensive. Yields have increased steadily, but only if business truly embraces the technology, will we see rapid improvement.


Fossil helps sustainable
Companies that have been working in fossil energy up to now can have a role in this. Especially progressive companies with smart technology processes. They have years of experience in the use of plant IT solutions. The same knowledge can now be used in the development of sustainable solutions. Because in the end, in all cases, it comes down to efficiency, to doing more with less: fewer people and fewer resources. The traditional industry can bring a lot of expertise in the field of remote monitoring and online predictive maintenance, which is already used on drilling rigs. The same technology can be applied to wind turbines. I also see opportunities for the deployment of intelligent measurement instruments and in making accurate real-time measurements to obtain relevant data on processes, that can be used to adapt your business. But I also think of developments in the field of chemical energy storage, such as hydrogen.


And, don’t forget the importance of gas as a transition fuel, with LNG paramount. We will need LNG in the coming years to meet the energy needs of large countries such as China, but this is associated with problems in the areas of transport and allocation. New installations are required, both onshore and offshore, to permit the transport through an LNG ship. That means LNG is still quite expensive and because it is a relatively new fuel, there are no standards and accurate measurements that have been developed. Fortunately, more and more smart technology is becoming available for efficiently loading LNG, transporting it, unloading it and thus, reducing costs. Specifically, the development of LNG technology is something Hint is doing, and I expect a lot from it in the future — in the context of energy preservation as well. It’s a great example of innovation, initiated by business and focused on profitability, which fits precisely the mission of Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Bill is always welcome to call me!



Wouter Last, president Hint