Taming the Sun

Taming the Sun

Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet

MIT Press, 2018




The world is on a deadline to 2050, when renewable sources, predominantly the sun, must generate at least a third of global electricity. Clean energy expert Varun Sivaram reveals a vision of what it will take to shape solar into the necessarily robust global industry the world will require by mid-century. His approach from economic, political, scientific, technological and practical angles can become repetitive, but Sivaram rewards readers with a fresh, comprehensive overview of this surprisingly complex sector. He provides a glimpse of a positive energy future as well as a new understanding of the issues and consequences facing the solar industry.


Solar Is the Future 

In the early 21st century, the global economy still depends on fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming. The quickest way to reduce carbon emissions is to make the world’s energy systems less reliant on carbon-based fuels and more reliant on renewables. One-third of the world’s electricity must come from renewables – including solar – by 2050, so solar must scale up quickly. Scaling solar is problematic, as is the way the power industry currently finances it. For example, China leads in manufacturing silicon-based solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Its success is driving down solar’s costs. As solar penetrates more markets, the value of solar energy also falls – lowering revenues and discouraging investment.

Contracts known as “power purchase agreements” (PPAs) between solar power suppliers and utility distributors provide incentives for and protect up-front investment in large installations. But as values fall and up-front costs remain high, financiers will find it harder to justify subsidies and guarantees. This may halt solar’s growth before it reaches...

About the Author

Varun Sivaram, PhD, is the Chief Technology Officer of ReNew Power Ventures, India’s largest renewable energy firm. He directed the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. An expert on clean energy technology, climate change and sustainable urbanization, he also wrote Digital Decarbonization.

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