The Switch

About the book

I wrote The Switch to make the case that solar power can provide the bulk of the world's power, not just electricity, within a surprisingly short time. The cost of PV is coming down rapidly as a result of improving technology, longer lives for equipment and lower financing costs. This will continue. It will mean that solar power will be the most economical way of generating electricity almost everywhere around the world within a decade. It already is in many countries in the tropics.

Cheaper PV is not enough. We need huge amounts of short-term storage, probably by installing batteries in homes and more widely across the grid. The good news is that, like PV, batteries are sharply coming down in price. Every succeeding forecast gets more optimistic.

We also require much better ways of handling the short-term fluctuations in the amount of power being generated by solar arrays. We'll keep the grid stable by adjusting how much electricity is used so that it matches the amount being generated. We'll soon have most machines monitored and controlled by sensors. When solar power is scarce, the sensors will temporarily reduce the electricity being used.

So far, this is all quite easy. Long-term storage is more of a problem. But I put forward the case that the route is surprisingly clear and uncomplicated. The world will store surplus power, such as we might get on a sunny day in June in the northern hemisphere, by converting it into natural gas or liquid fuels similar to petrol. The chemistry is simple and well-understood. We can easily store these energy sources in existing pipelines and storage tanks for months on end.

The Switch is carried by the inspirational stories of people around the world trying to make the solar revolution happen as quickly and cheaply as possible. Nina, a doctoral student in Oxford, is researching a new set of simple molecules that will give us cheaper PV panels. Dominic is helping to build the world's first commercial-scale plant for producing energy-rich methane from waste CO2 in Copenhagen. Mike is developing a new form of agriculture in Kenya to help power the grid when the sun is down while Christoph is collecting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in Switzerland for use as an ingredient in liquid fuels.

Available now, The Switch is a book to counter those who think that the low-carbon revolution is going to be impossibly expensive and dangerously slow.


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