Varun Sivaram is really excited about the potential of solar energy. Every hour, more sunlight hits the Earth in the form of energy than the world uses in a whole year, so the abundance alone is hugely significant. And yet, like others within the energy sector, the solar industry has been slow to invest in innovation: “My dad is in the semiconductor industry,” Varun tells us, “and I've seen how fast they innovate and how much money companies plow back into R&D as a proportion of their revenues. It's over 10%, in comparison to less than 1% for the solar industry.” To increase solar’s share of the energy mix, then, the industry must re-double its enthusiasm for innovation, which will ultimately help its long-term success.
Varun is one of the world's foremost advocates for solar innovation. He’s a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the new book Taming the Sun. Varun is also a pleasure to chat with – he’s an informed, charismatic communicator who can explain minute technicalities while keeping the larger context in plain view. If you’re curious about the future of solar or just want to listen to a pragmatic thinker, you’ll love this episode. You can also read his thoughts on what solar can learn from nuclear in his Breakthrough Journal essay, here. Follow Varun on Twitter @vsiv.
Find a full transcript of the episode here.
Mentioned in this episode:
Varun on "The Dark Side of Solar: How the rising solar industry empowers political interests that could impede a clean energy transition."
The Terawatt Challenge, in which chemist Richard Smalley posits that we need zero-carbon energy technologies at the multi-terawatt scale.
We at the Breakthrough have argued that tribalism is the biggest problem with clean energy debates today. Getting past this unproductive tribalism will require civil and honest engagements on the promises and perils of different technological pathways.