Global solar efforts need to be like putting ‘man on the moon’

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Sir David King and Richard Layard have called for global solar action, including a “world sunpower programme” and for 10% of global energy to be from solar by 2020.

King, the UK’s former chief scientific adviser, who starts as UK foreign secretary William Hague’s special representative on climate change tomorrow, and Layard, the founder-director of the London School of Economics (LSE) Centre for Economic Performance, published their commentary for global action towards furthering solar energy in The Guardian newspaper yesterday.

For non-carbon energy to become price competitive, King and Layard said it is “a major scientific challenge” requiring the same efforts as sending man to the moon.

PV energy costs are falling 10% every year, while in Germany and California solar is already price competitive and unsubsidised, but King and Layard said solar urgently needed to be cheaper to produce “than it is digging up coal, gas or oil”. 

Following on from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report on Friday, King and Layard said dependence on fossil fuels was a major cause of detrimental human-made climate change and “there is no hope of completely replacing fossil fuel without a major contribution from the power of the sun”.

King and Layard proposed the goal of generating grid-scale solar cheaper than fossil fuels by 2025, for 10% of global energy to be solar generated by 2020 and 25% by 2030. They also called for a “world sunpower programme” for research, development and testing, with all countries to be invited to participate to share findings “for benefit of the world”.

The pair dubbed solar “the ultimate source” of energy, and called for governments to promote public knowledge of solar’s potential to provide 5,000 times more energy than current human energy needs, stating: “It is inconceivable that we cannot collect enough of this energy for our needs, at a reasonable cost.”

The main problem for a lack of solar energy advancement is “too little public spending on non-carbon energy research” and the lack of a “major international research effort with a clear goal and timetable”, King and Layard said.

Two major scientific challenges highlighted were making solar available for 24 hours a day by advancing the technology of storage for electricity, and to reduce the cost of transmitting electricity from sites with high solar potential and suitably unused land.

UK foreign secretary, William Hague, said last Friday after the IPCC report that “governments, businesses and individuals all have a responsibility to tackle climate change”.

“The longer we delay, the higher the risks and the greater the costs to present and future generations,” he added.

The current foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change, Neil Morisetti said unless “urgent action” is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move to a low carbon, resource effective world, a rise in global temperatures by the end of the century will pose a “fundamental risk to global stability and prosperity. The need for global action now is clear”.

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