from Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Taming the Sun

Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet

Solar energy is the world’s cheapest and fastest-growing power source, but its rise is in danger of stalling. Varun Sivaram argues that realizing solar's potential will require innovation—creative financing, revolutionary technologies, and flexible energy systems.

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

Solar energy, once a niche application for a limited market, has become the cheapest and fastest-growing power source on earth. What's more, its potential is nearly limitless—every hour the sun beams down more energy than the world uses in a year. But in Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet, Varun Sivaram, Philip D. Reed fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the world is not yet equipped to harness erratic sunshine to meet most of its energy needs. And if solar's current surge peters out, prospects for replacing fossil fuels and averting catastrophic climate change will dim.

Innovation can brighten those prospects, Sivaram explains, drawing on firsthand experience and original research spanning science, business, and government. Financial innovation is already enticing deep-pocketed investors to fund solar projects around the world, from the sunniest deserts to the poorest villages. Technological innovation could replace today's solar panels with coatings as cheap as paint and employ artificial photosynthesis to store intermittent sunshine as convenient fuels. And systemic innovation could add flexibility to the world's power grids and other energy systems so they can dependably channel the sun's unreliable energy dependably.

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Unleashing all this innovation will require visionary public policy: funding researchers developing next-generation solar technologies, refashioning energy systems and economic markets, and putting together a diverse clean energy portfolio. Although solar can't power the planet by itself, it can be the centerpiece of a global clean energy revolution.


Reviews and Endorsements

Varun Sivaram takes us inside the world of alternative-energy innovation. He’s an optimist, but a realistic one: he knows time is running short for the public and private sectors to join forces. Taming the Sun is a must-read look into the limitless potential of an energy source as timeless as the sun that may very well save the earth.

John F. Kerry, Former U.S. Secretary of State; Former U.S. Senator (D-MA)

In Taming the Sun, Varun Sivaram makes a levelheaded yet compelling case for the role that solar energy can play in addressing climate change. Coming from a scientific and policy perspective, his book introduces not only the solar technologies that are potentially important, but also what is required to fully commercialize them from a scaling, funding, and policy perspective. It is an important and nonideological contribution to important discussion and decision-making in a critical arena.

Shirley Ann Jackson, President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Taming the Sun makes a compelling case that not confronting climate change could have dire consequences and, at the same time, makes a powerful case for the promise of solar energy. Everyone from physicists to investors to legislators should find the book instructive. Sivaram is evenhanded and nonideological in building his argument, but as he makes clear, progress ultimately depends on the political will to act.

Robert Rubin, Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; Former Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs

Unlike any time since 1900, the world’s energy system is in play. The futures—what society wants, and what will actually happen—are hard to fathom, yet vitally important. Solar power lies at the center of this drama. Elegantly written and expertly argued, Varun Sivaram’s new book is a stellar guide to the technologies and policies that will determine whether solar power meets its potential. His sober optimism is infectious.

David G. Victor, Professor, University of California, San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy; Co-Chair, Brookings Institution Energy Security and Climate Initiative

Solar is the fastest-growing energy industry in the world, and it is at the heart of the clean energy revolution that is transforming technologies and economies around the world. Varun Sivaram’s new book is an important primer about the global solar-energy industry and the potential this energy source has to improve the lives of people and to help protect our planet and our future.

Ed Markey, U.S. Senator (D-MA); Chair, Senate Climate Change Action Task Force

If you want to understand the history and the future of solar energy—one of the most important and transformative technologies of the twenty-first century—Taming the Sun is the book to read. Sivaram brings to bear scientific expertise in the most exciting frontiers of solar photovoltaics and interweaves science with business insights and nonpartisan policy recommendations. The result is the authoritative, balanced, and comprehensive text that the field has been waiting for.

Arun Majumdar, Professor and Co-Director of Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy; Former Founding Director of ARPA-E and U.S. Undersecretary of Energy

The power of solar energy has transformed on-grid and off-grid energy access discussions, yet many are not aware of these tremendous advances. This book is a wonderful guide to this clean energy revolution.

Dan Kammen, Professor, University of California, Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group and Goldman School of Public Policy

Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet . . . may be the first important policy book of 2018.

Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg View

This book is full of useful information, a pleasure to read, and more generally a model for how to write about science, technology, and policy. It will definitely make my 2018 'best books of the year' list.

Marginal Revolution blog

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