OVERVIEW: Taming the Sun
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 in Taming the Sun, energy expert Varun Sivaram 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 explains, drawing on firsthand experience and original research spanning science, business, and government. 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. Although solar can’t power the planet by itself, it can be the centerpiece of a global clean energy revolution.
The book . . . lays out the history, promise and pitfalls of solar technology with an easy-going lack of wonkishness. But it offers a sobering message that may be as prescient—and as readable—as Robert Shiller’s Irrational Exuberance was before the dotcom and housing crises of the 2000s. Mr. Sivaram is a good guide to [the solar] sector.”
The book is both the best available overview of where the industry finds itself today, and a road map for how it can reach that brighter future. . . . Sivaram says he wanted to give an 'even-handed' take, and he has done so with his detailed look at the promise and the pitfalls of solar power. . . . Anyone who wants to understand how the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy might play out should take notice of the case Sivaram makes.
Taming the Sun . . . may be the first important policy book of 2018. . . . This book is full of useful information, a pleasure to read, and more generally a model for how to write about science, technology, and policy. It will definitely make my 2018 'best books of the year' list.
-Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg View, Marginal Revolution
Why Solar Energy Needs Innovation to Reach Its Potential
Book Summary Video, 4 minutes
We're Doomed if Solar Energy Stalls-Here's How to Keep it Going
TEDx Talk, 15 minutes
A Conversation about Taming the Sun with Yalda Hakim
BBC World News Interview, 6 minutes
ARTICLES & EXCERPTS
“Can’t Stop the Shining,” Foreign Policy, March 1, 2018.
“A Tale of Two Technologies: What Nuclear’s Past Might Tell Us About Solar’s Future,” The Breakthrough Journal, Winter 2018.
“The Race to Invent the Artificial Leaf,” MIT Technology Review, February 21, 2018.