Powering a better future

In the quest for a better future for the planet and everyone on it, the world needs widely-available energy that is reliable, affordable and does not produce carbon.

One great source that fits this brief is wind power – it’s green and effective, and the cheapest of all electricity sources. However, in recent years many communities have stuck their noses up at wind farms, calling them noisy eyesores that take up a lot of space. An innovative way to navigate this problem is to place wind turbines beside motorways, where people don’t live and where the structures don’t spoil the landscape.

A number of countries have installed roadside wind farms and are reaping the rewards. Motorways in the region of Flanders in Belgium are flanked with turbines that partially power the Louvain-Liège railway line; while travellers on the San Gorgonio Pass in California can drive among thousands of turbines that spin to produce electricity for the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs.

As the example of the wind turbines shows, the road to a sustainable future won’t necessarily be smooth. But instead of viewing challenges as roadblocks, they should be looked at as opportunities – opportunities which can help us identify, and invest in, new and innovative solutions. We’re trying out clean energy solutions on Necker Island too.

Last year, I was delighted to join Bill Gates to launch an investment partnership called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which is set to propel new energy technologies through to commercialisation. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is currently working with a growing group of visionary countries to make a sustainable future a reality.

In the spirit of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, it was great to meet with the Rockefeller Foundation in Davos recently to discuss their efforts to scale up access to solar and renewable energy in India. The Rockefeller Foundation is already working on an initiative called Smart Power India, which has helped to build a market for 400 mini-grids to power rural villages in India. They’ve been experimental in their approach, and their achievements and potential for growth – they’re currently launching at a rate of one per day – is impressive. Our non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite, is looking forward to exploring what impact similar initiatives can have in Africa and beyond.

Investment in renewable generation has been improving, but needs to be accelerated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged last week, clean energy investment needs to increase massively in the coming years. From wind turbines by Belgium motorways to solar grids in rural India, renewable energy could meet our growing energy needs, as well as eventually replace aging coal, nuclear assets and diesel generation.


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