Bill Gates’ Path to Zero Carbon by 2050

Bill Gates’ Path to Zero Carbon by 2050

*adapted from a Zero Energy Project article by Joe Emerson


In his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates identifies the need for the world to get to Zero Carbon by 2050 and the consequences to the global population if we do not. He uses Zero to quantify and provide a tool for measuring the effectiveness of various technologies for getting us there. Currently, the world emits 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases per year, and we need to get to Zero by 2050. The steps are measurable. The goal is ambitious but achievable. It will not be easy!


Gates uses the idea of the “green premium” to describe the cost to replace an existing carbon-emitting technology with a zero-carbon technology that performs the same function. The green premium can be low or even negative for many energy conservation measures and some renewable energy sources because these cost less than the current practices. The green premium can be high for other technologies in which the low-carbon alternatives are undeveloped and technically complex. Gates suggests that technologies with a high green premium need significant funding for research and development with the goal of bringing down prices so they can be implemented worldwide before 2050.


Several significant zero-carbon technologies with a low “green premium” are poised for widespread acceptance, such as electric vehicles, solar and wind power, and heat pumps. Gates urges us to electrify everything we can and to move forward with a renewable smart grid. Gates emphasizes that we are not implementing the easier stuff at anywhere near the scale needed. “We should be building out renewables 5 to 10 times faster.”


Gates describes the more challenging technological breakthroughs that we will need to implement to get to zero, including:

  • making zero-carbon cement, steel, and plastics
  • formulating aviation, shipping, and long-haul trucking fuels
  • implementing climate positive agriculture practices
  • building integrated super smart grids
  • handling the intermittency (both daily and seasonal) problem posed by renewable power generation.

For that, he calls for research into improved battery storage, clean hydrogen, and small-scale, safe, inexpensive nuclear power. To get transportation fuels to zero, he advocates for more research and development on clean hydrogen and low-carbon biofuels. And he stresses the need for more research into zero-carbon steel, concrete, and plastics to make them price competitive with existing materials.


Gates believes that a 2030 target to reach zero carbon is an unrealistic deadline and that shifting to natural gas to reduce carbon by then is a dead end. We should develop and implement solutions that get us to zero even though it may take more time. While we are doing the crucial research on the hard tasks, we need to go full throttle with implementing the easier ones. To do that, we need to lower the green premium across the board.


Gates points out that the price differential between electric vehicles and gas-fueled vehicles will disappear by 2030 due to increased scale of production and ongoing innovation. He indicates that the greater fuel savings and lower maintenance costs of electric cars already brings the green premium very close to zero. This downward curve that is happening with EVs is also happening with solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, as well as energy-efficient heat pumps and induction stovetops. Lowering the green premium for these technologies could be as simple as creating an aggressive nationwide program of education, marketing, and financial incentives.


Here are some suggestions for building professionals to help lower green premiums. These are not specified by Gates, but are in line with what he believes is needed. Over the next 10 years, we can immediately use a wide variety of easy off-the-shelf technologies, such as heat pumps, solar panels, induction stove topselectric vehicle chargers, advanced air sealingsuper insulation, and high-efficiency factory homes. These technologies can best be implemented by constructing all-electric zero energy or zero energy ready homes and buildings, with the goal that all new construction be zero energy by 2030.


Bill Gates’ path to zero is a breath of fresh air because it is based on science and economic realities. At the same time, it feels like a cold shower because the task is complex. He doesn’t greenwash the challenges, but rather, quantifies their complexities, asks the hard questions, and puts a price tag on the solutions. He challenges us to quantify the effectiveness and costs of the various strategies for getting from 51 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year to zero.

His plan for getting to zero carbon by 2050 calls on citizens, consumers, corporations, and governments to take appropriate actions. As a businessman and philanthropist, he stresses the need for zero carbon technologies to become more affordable than current ones, so they will be more accessible worldwide. Bill Gates’ book should be in the hands of every citizen. It is a roadmap we all must follow together.


Joe Emerson is an article author at Zero Energy Project.

How to Achieve Energy Efficiency and Affordability in Zero Energy Homes

How to Achieve Energy Efficiency and Affordability in Zero Energy Homes

*Adapted from: Zero Energy Project

Extremely Energy Efficient Homes

Here’s how you can start building and designing affordable Zero Energy homes while maximizing energy efficiency. These tips will help you utilize commonly available building materials and equipment along with easy-to-learn building strategies. By following these steps, you can build a new home that is affordable to build and costs less to own.

1. Start with Smart Design

Cost-effective zero net energy homes begin with smart design. Designers and architects, as well as builders, and homebuyers, should be familiar with all the energy efficiency steps involved in building a net zero home. And the home should be designed so that builders and subcontractors can implement these steps as cost-effectively as possible. There are several design parameters to which builders should ask designers to pay special attention. Detailed communication between the builder and designer will ensure that these critical details don’t fall through the cracks.

2. Use the Sun for Renewable Energy

Grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) panels currently provide the most cost-effective form of renewable energy for a zero energy home. They can power all the energy needs of a home including lighting, heating and cooling systems, appliances and hot water. However, they are the most expensive component of a zero energy home and strategies for reducing or mitigating those costs are important to consider.

3. Select Energy Efficient Appliances and Electronics

Since zero energy homes have highly energy efficient building shells and use high efficiency HVAC and water heating equipment, a new category, appliances and electronics, becomes the most  significant source of energy expenditure in zero energy homes. As a result, selecting high efficiency appliances and electronics becomes the final step needed to minimize home energy use

4. Super-Seal the Building Envelope

Super-sealing the building envelope is the single most cost-effective measure builders can take to improve the energy efficiency of a zero energy home. Several proven, air-sealing approaches are available. Choose an approach that matches your climate, skills and budget.

5. Use Highly Insulated Windows and Doors

Windows and doors are like big energy holes in a well insulated, airtight building envelope and are the third most cost-effective opportunity for making a home energy efficient. Control window and door heat loss and gain by selecting appropriate window and door products, carefully locating them, and optimizing their size and orientation.

6. Create an Energy Efficient, Fresh Air Supply

Since zero energy homes are so airtight, a continuous source of fresh filtered air and moisture control are critical to its success. This need for ventilation has a silver lining: zero energy homes are healthier and more comfortable than standard homes. Highly energy efficient ventilation systems, known as heat recovery ventilation (HRV) systems or energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems expel stale air while recovering its heat and returning that same heat to the home.


Learn more at Zero Energy Project.

Team Zero is partnered with Zero Energy Project and the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA).