Taming the sun: innovations to harness solar energy and power the planet
This book talk is a joint event between the Oxford Martin School and the Oxford Energy Colloquia.
Solar energy, once a niche application for a limited market, has become the cheapest and fastest-growing power source on earth. What’s more, its potential is nearly limitless - every hour the sun beams down more energy than the world uses in a year. But Varun Sivaram, Fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, former Oxford researcher, and author of a new book, Taming the Sun, warns that the world is not yet equipped to harness erratic sunshine to meet most of its energy needs. And if solar’s current surge peters out, prospects for replacing fossil fuels and averting catastrophic climate change will dim.
Innovation can brighten those prospects, Sivaram will argue. Financial innovation is already enticing deep-pocketed investors to fund solar projects around the world, from the sunniest deserts to the poorest villages. Technological innovation could replace today’s solar panels with coatings as cheap as paint and employ artificial photosynthesis to store intermittent sunshine as convenient fuels. And systemic innovation could add flexibility to the world’s power grids and other energy systems so they can dependably channel the sun’s unreliable energy. Unleashing all this innovation will require visionary public policy: funding researchers developing next-generation solar technologies, refashioning energy systems and economic markets, and putting together a diverse clean energy portfolio.
About the speaker
Varun Sivaram is the Philip D. Reed Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also an adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, a nonresident fellow at the Columbia University Center for Global Energy Policy, and a member of the advisory boards for the Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment and Precourt Institute for Energy. Forbes named him one of the 30 under 30 in Law and Policy, Grist selected him as one of the top 50 leaders in sustainability, and Klout ranked him as one of the top 5 global thought leaders on solar energy. He is the author of the book, Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet (MIT University Press, March 2018).
Dr Sivaram also serves as strategic advisor to the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Reforming the Energy Vision, and he was formerly a consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he counseled Fortune 500 companies on adapting to the modern competitive landscape in energy. Prior to this role, he served as senior advisor for energy and water policy to the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, and oversaw the city’s Department of Water and Power.
A Truman and a Rhodes scholar, he holds degrees from Stanford University in engineering physics and international relations, with honours in international security. Dr Sivaram holds a PhD in condensed matter physics from St. John’s College, Oxford University, where he developed third-generation solar photovoltaic coatings for building-integrated applications.