Harnessing the Power of the Sun

“Scaling (Alternative) Energy: The Key to Survival”: Presented by Nathan Lewis, George L. Argyros Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology

Future in Review is designed to give its attendees a glance into, well, the future. So it is quite fitting that Nathan Lewis, George L. Argyros Professor of Chemistry at California Institute of Technology, opened the four day event with a diatribe on the challenges and prospects for scaling alternative energy.

Lewis wasted no time debating the negative effects of carbon. The world, he announced, is in a dire state. Action must be taken now. Today. Tomorrow. Not a decade down the line.

The reason? The lifetime of energy infrastructure today is about 40 years. We are determining in the next 10 years what our energy use will be in 2050.

So then, how does Lewis recommend we commence?

“The best way out of this is not to legislate things on a global scale but to make clean energy the cheapest energy,” he advised Tuesday night at the Rancho Palos Verdes Terranea Resort.

Nuclear, wind, carbon sequestration, biofuels, hydroelectric, geothermal. All hold potential as stepping stones towards a low-cost solar future. But their limits in capacity and cost make them just that. Temporary.

According to Lewis, solar is the only alternative energy that can provide the world with enough cheap energy to sustain itself. Even given conservative estimates of population growth, increased energy use, and taking into account innovations in technology.

He claims that an area of solar panels, roughly the size and shape of Kansas, would produce 3 terawatts of energy, and in so doing support U.S. energy needs indefinitely. Six of these could power the world. How do we get there?

Other pages out of Lewis’ book for a continually viable future include

It won’t be cheap, but Lewis says the costs are unavoidable.

“We have to spend some money in a risk diverse industry to actually change it. If we align, technology, energy and capital, we can get from here to there.”