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Bill Gross on How Technology Can Solve the Climate Crisis | Upfront Summit 2020

Bill Gross
Founder and CEO at Idealab
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Upfront Summit 2020
January 30, 2020, Pasadena, CA, United States
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Bill Gross on How Technology Can Solve the Climate Crisis | Upfront Summit 2020
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About speaker

Bill Gross
Founder and CEO at Idealab

Experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the internet industry. Skilled in Product Management, Fundraising, User Experience, Engineering, and Entrepreneurship. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) focused in Engineering from California Institute of Technology.

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About the talk

Topic: Business

Founder & Chairman of Idealab Bill Gross shares his plan for how technology can solve the climate crisis, why it's so urgent, and what solutions exist today.

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Good afternoon. It's really an honor to be here. I'm excited to talk to you about what I feel is one of the biggest challenges of our time climate change, but also why I can be one of our biggest opportunities, especially with technology. I really think that that's the only solution let me tell you the story about how we got here and how I feel we can solve this. Well once upon a time we actually lived in the biology or up the biology of energy or we got all of her energy from plants from animal muscles for our own muscles, then after a million years we switched for the chemistry

of the chemistry was when we burned everything in sight. We got all our energy by burning things. I feel we need to switch to the physics Sarah the physics era is where we get all our energy from the Sun the wind and nuclear. The reason we need to enter the physics era is because we really are trashing the Earth. We're putting trash everywhere all of us here produce about 1 lb of brass per day all of us here on Earth 7/2 billion people 7/2 billion pounds of trash every single day, but less well-known in the trash we put in our landfills is the trash report of the atmosphere is 31

times as much every single person puts 31 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere every day. And that's dividing everybody in there is evenly those of us in this room higher standard of living probably 5 or 10 times as much so maginus. Each of us is putting our body weight of CO2 up into the atmosphere every single day. Our body weight of CO2 looks about like this. This is actually drawn to scale. It's a hundred thousand cubic meters of CO2 that every single one of us is producing. That's a person in the bottom there. That's the size is 50 times the volume of this tent that every one of us is

making every single day and we're basically using the atmosphere for that landfill if we could see it. We probably would do more about it if it was actually more visible the fact Isabel makes it much more of a problem. We're putting it all in this thin sliver of the atmosphere and it's causing all kinds of problems the extra heat that were added to the planet for the ground to the ocean because of that extra CO2 is equal to 3 Hiroshima bombs going off every single second of every single day. Imagine if we were looking at another planet a beautiful blue planet where water was there, which

was the essence of all of life and we were hitting that I we watch those people hitting up that planet with three Atomic blasts every single second. You would say, why is that continuing? Well, it's really really hard to change the effects of a catastrophic all of you know about this the weather changes. The more severe storms Winters fires a billion animals died in Australia and just the last month like that's how much damage this is causing. Solution actually is amazingly simple. It's just four words or very hard words, but it's just stopped burning fossil

fuels we are exhuming the dead animals from 300 million years ago and burning them up to get all of our energy. The reason this is so hard. It's cuz we love our lifestyles. All of our lifestyle is powered by this low cost energy. If you take a look at this graph energy is the most important history on Earth for the last seven hundred years of the GDP per capita. You can see it's very very flattered about six hundred of those years until takes off like a rocket ship. Once we discover we can burn cheap energy to power armor all the sudden we had dramatic and key growth because all of our

lifestyle is powered by that. Energy is the biggest industry on Earth that accounts for 10% of the entire 86 trillion-dollar Global GDP. So it's enormous and price really matters. This is a graph showing market share with different sources of energy as you reduce the price per kilowatt-hour every time you reduce the price by just one cent the size goes up by 1 trillion dollars. That's how sensitive is about to any other markets. Will you change the price by $0.01 and has a trillion dollars extra market share? Well, that's the energy Market. Test answers things are and people are not

willing to pay more renewable energy just has to be cheaper than fossil fuels to make an impact because even just in the last year when government increased even small amount of taxes on energy people were riding in the streets. Like that's how much energy matters to people's livelihood to the lifestyle. I said everything about their way of life. So how do we make renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels that's really what I feel we have to do. We need to beat that buy that one sent to make everybody moved to this new renewable source of energy. Let me quickly tell you about my journey

think about how I discover the answer to this conundrum. This is the biggest challenge we face right now. Well my journey started in the San Fernando Valley young boy in junior high school at the bus. Stop making one candy for candy bar and I are in $400 so I can go out and bought this shopsmith power tools so I can make things out of wood metal acrylic. I really was excited about that and I started making all these bowls at lambs and checkerboard and I took old phones apart and turn them back into phone so I can sell for $49 and believe it or not right here. We are at the

Rose Bowl my uncle Jeffrey got a small booth for me at the swap meet at the Rose Bowl every month. And I told these and I use that money to get really really excited about my next passion which started in 1973. It was a transformative event that happened to me when I saw the energy crisis and gasoline rationing. Boulevard in 1973 with rum mile long lines of cars to buy $5 of rash and gasoline on my mother could even buy enough gasoline for us to be able to take us to school my brother and I had a ride 5 miles to school on a bicycle cuz you couldn't get enough gas lines. I got so excited

about Alternative Energy. How can I alternate energy even back then make an impact on the planet's use of energy. So I started making all kinds of solar concentrators first little problems out of cardboard, then we'll dishes out of metal and glass and I started a little company has to sell them in the back of Popular Science magazine. I'm a little kids in plans for them. I had my little peachy folder in the back of my English class and while other people are riding their book reports on Shakespeare. I was writing about parabolas in my mailing list in the people who were ordering plants for

me. I was trying to think up for me. I was running down the basic problem of the construction of the problem is escaping the second what that's what I was working on it that time already in high school, but I was able to make these plans and kits these are the things I sold and I was able to sell 10,000 of them for $4 each. Play my way through college. What's a college right here in Pasadena? And when I graduated is 91 was the exact amount the IBM PC came out. I went down to computer land on Lake Avenue. I bought this IBM PC for $5,000 monochrome display to Floppy drive to Pieces ke Ram. I

was so excited my brother and I both learned how to program and we made a little natural language interface to Lotus 1-2-3 and Lotus acquired that company in 1985. And then when my son start kindergarten in 1991, I started out knowledge about your educational software company tell kids fall in love with learning. I sold that company in 1995 and I was really really bitten by the entrepreneurship and I want you to do so many different ideas when the Netscape browser came out. So I decide to start idea lab instead of being a Serial entrepreneur. I wanted to be a car will not start multiple

things at a time all Under One Roof and I did let us first incubator was really a wild idea. I didn't know if it would work. There was something I wanted to try an experiment to put multiple companies Under One Roof. We started with these first 12 ideas in 1996. Only seven of them were able to get additional funding but five of them were able to go public and I gave you the funding to continue to run idea lab and over the years last 24 years restart more than a hundred fifty companies in many many different areas after the.com crash. I started thinking about where was my biggest passion

and I turned back to that event that happened to be in 1973 and I said, I want to take some of the funding we have build a machine shop at idle at start making not this internet companies for companies that can make an impact on renewable energy across these years over 50 companies. We had 50 companies and unsuccessful. IPO has requisitioned. We have 40 operating companies right now, but we have 60 failures. So I learned a lot of lessons from those failures. I'm going to tell you the four biggest lessons, I learned from those failures and show you how those apply to solving this energy

crisis, I believe. So what were the four most valuable lessons I learned across those last 24 years the things that some I wish someone had told me 24 years ago before starting idea lab will the first one is timing. I gave a whole Ted talk about this I think timing is so much of a factor in the success or failure of an idea. The world has to be ready and want what you're making it comes down to actually building there were many companies that we started way too early according to the company's from

even before the.com crash. I've been rebuilt now and started because the timing is right you need to write adoption of GPS either option of broadband just have so many different things that we started too early because the world wasn't ready for them. Well right now the world is completely ready for renovation of the energy system. That is what the world needs. The timing is perfect for exactly what I'm talking about today the second lesson iterate. I started the company ID lab I love ideas. I called her ideal that because of that. But in fact almost none of the ideas we start with end up

being the final idea that all have some small or even mass of iteration to get to the final idea in the search of product Market fit. I think it's not a little bit and I think the only way to get there is to enter a key idea to find that so I realize in hindsight maybe I should call the internet lab not ideal, but I really really think that interation is the key to success for some of the companies and you'll see how I believe that's applicable in this energy challenge we face right now. Third use Moore's Law exponential Curve Crush linear nothing is ever gone down as much and

price or increase as much power as computation business is at smartly use this when I look back at the company's of ours are really succeed in they were the ones that really took advantage of this really really made a big big impact much more so than ones that didn't he take a look at all Commodities weather is oil or beef or sugar or coffee fill a fluctuating price over time. But only one thing I've gone down dramatically it consistently and that's the cost of computation. I have this here to drive home that example. This is an old memory card from a little more than 50

years ago. It was handwoven with 32 wires by thirty two wires. There's 1024 little course. They are the store thousand 24-bit. So this is 120 bytes of memory right here for $1,000. And right now this is 128 GB for $9.95 at Amazon. So it's gone down in price by a factor of a hundred it's gone. Down inside by factoring hundred has gone up and Power by a factor of a billion billion. So there's a total factor of a trillion hear a trillion in 50 years. Nothing in history has ever Changed by a cost of a trillion and nothing's ever

change by costume Trillium ever. So taking advantage of this is a hard saying this guy feels the answer and I'll tell you how I think this is a reply to the climate change solution and finally my fourth lesson totally learned this one maybe the Hard Way persistence the emotional journey of creating anything great almost always crosses through a dark swamp at the fair in the middle you start off with the oldest of the best idea ever in your alt right about it's going to be fun when you start realizing it's too hard than you thought that you realize it could be a lot of work and then you

realize oh my God. I don't know how I got myself into this and you're in that dark spot for the spare powering across that getting to the other side Crystal. Most people only see the very left and right as they don't see all the hard work in the middle of that dark swamp in the middle of all the great entrepreneurs have gone through this Walt Disney went through this Steve Jobs. And I didn't know that I didn't know so many of the articles that Lyin Eyes entrepreneurship don't talk about that hard part the middle. They only talk about the great success at the end. So this definitely applies

to The Climate solution and definitely we have to have resistance to get through this. Let me talk about applying these four things to the challenges of our time. How can we use these lessons to use technology and connotation cost? What energy problems do we need to solve with these forests? Well, the first one is energy storage. I'll tell you what that's so important and why we need to make energy storage as cheap as dirt. The reason we need to do that is in all of history. We reach the major Tipping Point in 2017 in 2017 for the first time ever. We can make electricity from

renewable energy from the Sun and wind cheaper than burning fossil fuels 6 * $0.05 an hour wind is $0.03 in dollars to in fact just last month a power purchase agreement for 25 years was signed in the Middle East for 1.68 cents per kilowatt hours even lower than $0.02 just energy is history from the Sun directly. So what's the problem Renewables have completely one, but at the wrong time of day they come only when the sun is shining it when the wind is blowing. That's why I storage is so important an amazing weight and I learned this is actually cheaper to make energy that is a story during

energy is much much harder than actually make it in the first place. So coming up with a way to store energy more cheaply is very important. This is the cost of making energy tencent 6 * 5 * 3 cents to sense. But this is the cost of storing energy. I'll show you we need to get that way way down. Globe hospital for storing energy. We need to make such a we ask for the cost of making energy. It's cheaper than fossil fuels. Well, there's only three major ways to store energy chemically with batteries of all types of everybody's working on driving down the price of that family with hot or

cold many people are working a story story energy that way to or mechanically gravity compressed air. Flywheel things like that will gravity is the biggest energy storage system in the world right now. We use the water cycle for that. It's basically pumped Hydro. We either let rain fall into a damn what we pump water up a mountain that is 94% of all the energy ReStore in the world right now is done by gravity read that message. This is the cost of energy storage flywheels are $0.45 a kilowatt hour battery search between 25 and 28 cents pumped Hydro the cheapest that they just told you it

was $0.17. We need to get the three. We need some way to get down to $0.03 because then $0.02 for solar Plus $0.03 for storage would be cheaper than fossil fuels but then it could be 24 hours a day that we finally wood could put an end to fossil fuels for electricity. How do we do it pumped Hydro looks like this $0.17 a kilowatt-hour you pump water up the hill in your Reservoir at the top you need to he'll let the water flow back down and get turnt Urban the other direction to get the energy back while I was trying to figure out some way that we can send you a compact drill bit without

getting the mountain. So I started looking at a whole bunch of different angles to do that. The simplest one was what about if you just built the big concrete Silo pump the water out there and then we'll have the water come back out that would be more expensive than pumped Hydro that didn't work because the cost of the concrete to build the building to hold all that water gets too expensive. Also, look at building a big man. That was even more expensive. Look at having a crane look up a big weight. That was the worst that was $0.60 a kilowatt hour or so is going in the wrong

direction, but then of Eureka moment came, I was working with andreea arsene co-ed the idea of using computer vision. Add AI to make the crane lift and stack blocks automatically that was in Eureka moment. This is me and my shop at home with my son and a little $40 toy Amazon create a bunch of blocks and items you can have a Crane That Could stack the blocks. Now. You wouldn't have the cost of all the metal of the crane for only lifting one weight, but you can lift each block off that lets this idea computer control train with six arms stacking blocks into a tower

building a towel around the crane when you have excess energy lowering the blocks down. It's like pumped Hydro, but it's sort of pump concrete lifting and what this allows you to do is build a system. They can take all the power from the solar farm or all the power from a windmill store it when the wind is blowing when the sun shining but then by lowering the way back to the ground get the energy back right when you need it and what it looks like is this you have a bunch of blocks you through. This is a big sister. This is for grid size scale. This is not for a home home used for this is her

power an entire city each one of his powers. I just blocked as 4,000 blocks that weigh 35 pounds each such a huge huge amount but it's way smaller than a damn that's way less disruptive than a damn and it can use entirely recycled material in the fact you can kill two birds with one stone by building the block out of waste material as well as it as energy is pumped in you charged up the tower because he is fully charged in the middle and then as he wanted to be back you take it out by lowering blocks down back down to the ground. So this system used all

of these things. It took many iterations to get to this answer and uses computation like crazy. There's so much going on in this automated train to solve for a win to solve for seismic load to automatically pick the right ballet sequence of ordering the block but it all works and it uses a huge amount of competition which is super cheap. You can buy one and video GPU card for $29. I can do all of that in real time now and we are so excited about this. The first system is being built in southern Switzerland right near Lugano. We announced us about a year ago. It's 7 million dollars for

one of these big 35 megawatt our systems. We got 1500 orders of Demands around the world for more than 10 billion dollars of the man that just the first year just because once you can store energy feebly it makes a huge difference for power and the grid renewably with the way we have this now, we got this down to three and a half cents a kilowatt hour and by using more material that is recyclable in the blocks in some cases where people will pass to take that material way. I believe we can get below $0.03 Black energy storage. What else do we need to try to do to reduce our carbon

footprint another huge thing we need to do is solve the problem of burning fossil fuels for industrial heat electricity is a huge part of our problem, but it's only 25% 75% is industrial heat that we use for all of our built world all of the concrete steel glass around us uses high temperature heat to make those materials yours up graph of all the different temperatures we use to make materials in our world and 20% of our Global emissions come from things that we make an above 1000 degrees Centigrade cementing. The biggest cement alone is 8% of all of our global missions think about that.

All of Aviation is only 2% So cement is 4 times more than every airplane in the world with the missions comes to making cement because it requires a huge amount of fossil fuels at a huge knot release of CO2 when you take the Limestone to prepare to make cement so I set out to find figure out a way to make cement with no fossil fuels but it took getting above 1000 degrees C. A concentrated solar that normally looks like this only goes up to 600 seat concentrated solar is a large field of mirrors cost to transfer a single Tower. It capped out of 600. See you can make steamed you can run a

steam turbine said you can't know how can we use Moore's law to find address this one? Do we start looking again? It many many iterations all different ways of taking mirrors and different systems pointing them a different ways moving them gang separately all these different angles that we probably came up with this way of using a computer vision system to identify the boundaries of each mirror. So you can deploy them very easily identified the directions again using a video and allow us to get well above a thousand see all the way to 1500 C 1500

seat is 1/3 the temperature of the surface of the Sun and we can actually see that on Earth just by taking his mirrors in point in the very accurately. This is what it looks like, but we built a demonstration of this in Lancaster. 45 minutes north of here. And this is what the computer vision system sees. There are cameras looking out at the field seeing all the mirrors. At 30 frames per second is analyzing the precise angle of every one of those mirrors and pointing them super accurate collecting them for any thermal expansion movement of the earth wind Sun moving everything to

get them all the point very accurately to one spot spot. Is that Target you see on the right the prettiest art that I showed you a concentrated solar was the size of the stage almost done with this room. This target is the size of a basketball hoop. It's only a 10 inch diameter the precise pointing that Moore's Law gives us allows us to TV arbitrarily high temperatures cuz we can get all the light in a very tiny spot in that tiny spot on the right. We can achieve 1500 degrees Centigrade. We can create cement out of it with no CO2 emissions at all. We can take steel and melted with no CO2

emissions at all. So I'm very very sorry. Again. We're reaching Partners from all over the world to try to deploy this we have to do this quickly that can make a big big impact on co2 reduction. How did Moore's Law help is here allows us to use less materials. We can use more software and let's deal we can use less labor. We can just throw these things out in the field and the camera lines everything for us knows no survey and no calibration has been calibrated consistently constantly. So Moore's Law, I really can help us in almost every area. I'm just giving you these two examples right now,

but what I feel we need to do in the other thousand examples of figure out ways to use computation use the power of this now in that small size to find address these problems in a very very novel way that we finally have the technology to do and finally we can make heat now for Less in the price of burning stuff. I told you that the chemistry age was burning everything in sight. This is officially making heat from the Sun at less than the price of burning stuff. We now can make heat from the Sun at less than $0.01 per kilowatt-hour So what do we need to do next take carbon out of the

atmosphere that we need to work on point with a lot of car. Do we have in the atmosphere? We have to take CO2 out that's very hard. It's very hard to feel this year cuz we're putting so much and yet to move a lot of hair to do it if we put 1.5 billion additional pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere around the earth and you need a coliseums worth of air to take one ton out. So you need to move a lot of hair. Do you need for a lot of here to take that out? The current methods are

way too expensive cuz you need that big bands to move that are used to put it through filtration system. I'm hoping we can make a way where we use the Low Cost Storage of energy Vault the movie are the low-cost teeth from Hilliard Jen to actually remove the CO2 from a sponge of CO2 sponge and get the cost way way down. The power of this it will be like a tree it will be like planting 2 trillion free initiative we need to do that. But we also need to go backwards faster than trees because we can make a super tree again. Moore's Law is better than free. We can actually take out a hundred times

more CO2 per amount of land that we can this would be an example with 1 acre of this system. We can take out one ton of CO2 per day that's equivalent of 100 acres of forest times more effective what that means is we can take a patch of land 390 Miles Square and take out all the CO2 of mankind every car every bus every truck every plane. We can take out everything with that amount of land and we don't need any water. We just need the desert sunshine. So it's actually possible. All we have to do I say all we have to do is get the price down the price low enough so we can scale this

is that amount of land and we could actually zero out all the CO2. My dream is to do that each of these businesses to be trillion-dollar. This is all we have to do is beat the price of fossil fuels and there's enormous business as I said earlier. As you can tell I'm very passionate about making this a reality in my lifetime. I love to find ways to work together and share other ideas about how to take the same technique and applied them to many many other businesses. I just got back from the world economic Forum last week. I was walking along the Promenade in Davos. I run across people who

come in from all over Europe on the electric trains ribbon in the protest and try to make more awareness about this these kids from the Swiss Federation. It was so exciting to see their passion fruit making a difference. I followed them for the protest that Greta was leading. She's unbelievable. She has changed the conversation. I've been to World economic Forum before all anybody talked about was money GDP gross profits. Finally. The conversation is about climate change these these kids have changed the conversation. We have a solid yet, but they really really I change

the conversation. That's a great start. I think technology is a solution and we really need to do it. Here we are in 2020. I really thought about this a lot. I do years time as we enter this new decade. What are the odds that all of us here in this room are alive in the exact decade that could be the turning point of the earth and fall civilizations. This is the decade these next eight or ten years that we have are the chance to do this. We have to hurry we have to do it fast back when I was her age starting my little company sort of Isis. There were 300 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere

going up at 2 per year now. There's 417 going up 7p year. I never could've imagined we would be in that situation. I didn't even know what that was back when I was doing my little company for devices. I feel we need to go back and give her our kids all the future Generations the world. We inherited that we grew up in that would be an incredible thing. I also have to thank all of you. Look. I'm right here at Pasadena. I live about a mile that way my office ideal have them out. That way. I went to college to miles that way so many of you in this audience had help me build my career you

bet on me in my successes. You've helped me through my failures. I'm only working out what I'm so passionate about right now, and I'm so grateful to all of you for giving me the chance to work on what I truly care about. Thank you so much, baby.

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