The future of solar energy

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Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet. By Varun Sivaram. MIT Press; 392 pages; $29.95 and £24.95 

IN 1954 the New York Times reported on a breakthrough in solar photovoltaic (PV) technology that could lead to “the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun”. American researchers had discovered that silicon transistors, the building blocks of computers, could also generate electricity when hit by sunlight.

The same year, however, Lewis Strauss, chairman of America’s Atomic Energy Commission, made a balderdash prediction that nuclear power would soon become “too cheap to meter”. In the atomic frenzy of the 1950s America unleashed vast R&D support for nuclear energy. Almost at birth, the silicon solar cell was gazumped by a rival non-fossil technology. For decades it lay in nuclear’s shadow.

No longer. Several recent books have celebrated a solar renaissance, as the cost of electricity generated…Continue reading

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