Joris van der Schot

A discussion with Joris van der Schot: available to watch now online.

This was a Joint CCLS/CSER event that took place: 5.30pm Monday 26 November 2018
Trinity College
Winstanley Lecture Theatre

Joris van der Schot is a former Royal Dutch Shell executive who has turned his attention to scientific energy breakthroughs that could meaningfully speed up the transition to carbon-free energy. He is currently setting up a multi-million dollar Miracle Energy Prize to incentivise the development of such breakthroughs.

We need Energy Miracles, dixit Bill Gates. But would we actually recognise one if we saw one? The Miracle Energy Prize seeks to do just that: recognise breakthrough energy innovators who are able to show working prototypes of technology that taps into hitherto unexploited sources of energy that are clean and abundant. The Prize is explicitly positioned as an endeavour with an unusual risk/reward profile, seeking technologies that might challenge our current understanding of physics. Whilst a positive outcome may be near miraculous, the fundamental motivation for the Prize is utterly rational: identifying and scrutinising radically new energy technology.

Effective altruism focuses on problems that are important, neglected and tractable. At the dawn of the 21st century, finding fundamentally new sources of abundant clean energy could potentially be of great importance to civilisation. Averting catastrophic climate change with the carrot of superior technology might turn out to be much more effective than the stick of international negotiations. Yet the quest for such new energy sources is commonly neglected, except for small groups of renegade scientists and inventors. We believe offering a Prize could be an effective way to gain traction in this space. By rewarding result instead of effort, a Prize combines low financial risk with high potential impact. The Miracle Energy Prize might never be successfully claimed, or at least not within a reasonable timeframe. But if it is, it will have made a significant contribution to the human condition.