Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates on Wednesday rebuked a claim made a day before by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that put the blame for that state's massive cold-weather power outage on the failure of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.
In fact, extreme weather like the winter storm that swept across the country in recent days will become more likely as climate change worsens, Gates told Yahoo Finance, advocating instead for an expansion of renewable energy as part of his call for the U.S. to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
On Tuesday, Abbott blamed the outages on wind turbines and on the Green New Deal, a plan for combating climate change that the Texas governor called "a deadly deal for the United States of America."
“Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. ... It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary,” Abbott told Sean Hannity in an interview cited by the Washington Post.
When asked about the blame directed at wind energy by Abbott, Gates said, "He's actually wrong."
"You can make sure wind turbines can deal with the cold," adds Gates, the former Microsoft (MSFT) CEO and author of a new book entitled, "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.” "[The extreme cold] probably wasn't anticipated for the wind turbines that far South. But the ones up in Iowa and North Dakota do have the ability to not freeze up."
The storm struck a large portion of the U.S. on Monday, bringing snowfall and ice that caused power outages for millions of people. Overall, more than 150 million people came under a winter storm warning, the National Weather Service said.
'The extreme events are coming more often'
The cold blast hit especially hard in Texas, where as of Tuesday 4 million households lacked power, the Washington Post reported. Some conservatives blamed frozen wind turbines for the power outage but wind energy contributes a fraction of the state's power in the winter, the Post pointed out.
The loss of power caused by blackouts of thermal power plants — which mostly rely on natural gas — outpaced the loss caused by frozen wind turbines by a factor of five or six, the Post reported.
"Actually, the main capacity that's gone out in Texas is not the wind, it's actually some of the natural gas plants that were also not ready for the super cold temperatures," Gates says.
Moreover, Gates said that climate change causes extreme weather patterns like the winter storm to "become more likely."
"Because the normal wind patterns are broken down and so cold fronts can go further south more often than we would expect," he says.
"The extreme events are coming more often and with more force — including hurricanes — than before we started warming the earth," he adds.
Gates took a special interest in climate change over the course of electrification efforts undertaken in the developing world by the Gates Foundation in the early 2000s, when he realized that concerns about carbon emissions could limit energy growth in the developing world, he told The New York Times. His study of the issue culminated with a Ted Talk in 2010 called "Innovating to Zero!," describing the need for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
In 2015, he helped launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a collection of private investors who back ventures that will help the world address climate change. Other investors include Amazon (AMZN) founder and outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos and Alibaba Group (BABA) co-founder Jack Ma.
Until 2000, Gates led personal computing giant Microsoft. That year, he and his wife co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which now employs nearly 1,500 people and boasts an endowment of $46.8 billion. As of December, foundation had contributed $1.75 billion to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking with Yahoo Finance, Gate said climate change brings an immense economic shift but also a problem of persuasion.
"Giving people a direct experience of the wildfires or that sea level rise, and then helping them extrapolate that," he says. "That's a communications challenge."