G20 should use solar to solve ‘world’s greatest problem’

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A former UK chief scientific adviser has called on all G20 countries to solve “world’s greatest problem” of climate change by developing low-cost solar energy.  

Writing in the Financial Times, former UK chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, and the former founder-director of the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, Richard Layard, identify solar technology as mankind’s most plausible solution to climate change.

The pair write: “To defeat the axis powers, the allies developed the atom bomb. When threatened in the cold war, the US sent a man to the moon .When threatened by global warming, we surely need a similar effort to save the planet. The Manhattan and Apollo projects engaged the best minds of their ages from a few nations. But today the effort needs to be international.

“The project would need a clear aim – like the atomic bomb or a man on the moon. We suggest the following: to enable bulk electricity to be produced more cheaply by solar energy than by any fossil fuel.”

The pair suggest that all G20 countries could partner to form a research project with the sole aim of providing solar-generated energy at commercial prices 24-hours a day by 2025. “Membership would be voluntary, but the participation of the US and China would be crucial, and they would play leading roles,” note King and Layard.

They continue: “Each country that joins the project should spend the money on research and development at home but within the context of an internationally agreed work plan. Nations should finance the project in whatever way they want. To match the spending on the Apollo project would require only 0.05% of each year’s gross domestic product for 10 years from each G20 country.”

The pair acknowledge the challenges facing the proposed project, most notably, the collection, storage and distribution of the solar-generated electricity.  However, they note that the cost of distribution is constantly falling and that, although breakthroughs in storage technology are required, they are technologically feasible.

As for why they believe solar holds the key to solving climate change, the pair remark: “We need a concentrated effort on one source that offers the clearest prospect of success. The collection of solar energy by photovoltaic cells becomes cheaper every day and is already nearly economic in sun-rich environments. Every continent includes areas of such environments.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, King added: “Solar cell prices fall 20% for every doubling of industry capacity and the installation prices between 2007 and 2012 by 75%. What we see is that the economic opportunity is now there and the more we invest in solar energy the cheaper it becomes to use it.”

A recent report Navigant Research said that the global solar PV market would be worth US$134 billion by 2020, with PV-generated electricity becoming cost-competitive with retail electricity without subsidies.

The authors conclude: “This is a far more important issue than putting a man on the moon. It should attract as much attention – and, this time, the attention of every nation. Failure to solve this problem will affect every nation upon earth.”

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