The Switch | Chris Goodall

Summary of: The Switch: How solar, storage and new tech means cheap power for all
By: Chris Goodall

Introduction

Welcome to the world of ‘The Switch’ by Chris Goodall, a book that dives deep into the world of solar energy and its potential to become the primary source of power globally. The summary explores the rapid advancements in solar technology and decreasing costs, pushing solar energy onto the mainstream stage. It discusses how governments and large corporations have begun to see the potential of this renewable resource and are now investing significant sums into solar energy projects. The book touches on unique challenges faced by different countries and how they can overcome limitations by utilizing alternative renewable energy sources such as wind or hydropower. As you embark on this journey, prepare to discover the brighter future that solar energy promises to bring, backed by data and technological innovations.

Solar Energy Revolution

Solar energy is becoming increasingly affordable due to technological advances in photovoltaics. Cheaper financing and solar panels are driving down the cost of solar energy and increasing its use. Each time the world’s solar capacity doubles, the cost of solar modules goes down by 20%. This is leading to a 40% annual growth rate in PV installations. Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute predicts that by 2020, the price per kilowatt-hour could be as low as four cents. Despite the belief that renewable energy is more expensive than fossil fuels, large fossil fuel companies are adopting solar energy as it becomes more affordable. The transition to solar energy will require massive governmental intervention to minimize cost and maximize speed. Efficient overnight and dark-season storage of solar-generated electricity will also be necessary. The shift to solar power will not only save money, but it will also reduce air pollution and the threat from climate change.

Meeting Global Energy Demands

The sun provides enough energy to power the world for a year in just 90 minutes, with 90,000 terawatts hitting Earth annually. However, the current worldwide energy consumption averages only 15-17 terawatts at any given time, with each person only using two kilowatts of continuous energy per year. While energy demand is expected to grow in developing economies, deindustrialization and energy efficiencies in developed nations will limit total global demand to around 30 terawatts by 2035. With photovoltaics supplying less than 2% of the world’s electricity, installing 150 terawatts of solar PV capacity by 2035 is necessary to meet demand – requiring 1% of Earth’s land area as solar farms.

Solar Power: The Future of Energy

Solar power is a promising alternative to traditional fossil fuels that can lead to a greener future. While the amount of land required to generate solar power varies by country, it can be a cost-competitive alternative to nuclear power. Countries with sunny weather and poor grid-based electricity access, such as India and Brazil, have found that solar photovoltaic (PV) is the cheapest electricity source. In Kenya and other parts of Africa, microgrids that combine solar panels and batteries help supply electricity to distant populations. For areas with reliable sunshine, PV and batteries are enough to sustain energy needs. However, for those in high latitudes, solar energy stored as liquid or gas could be the answer to the challenge of surviving long, low-light winters. The book highlights that if the current growth trend continues, the world could be free of fossil fuels in about 30 years.

Solar Power’s Cheaper Path to Domination

With economies of scale, storage will determine whether solar power will take over the world’s energy system by 2035. Semiconductors and solar PV both follow the S curve of rapid growth and a slowing ascent, but pricing comes down only with the latter. While nuclear and other comprehensive technologies follow a different course, solar PV’s capacity will go from less than 2% of the world’s electricity to reaching global demand by 2035. Once solar power becomes economically attractive, fossil-fuel energy investors will disappear, as Google and Apple have proven through their recent heavy investments in solar capacity.

Solar Power Dominance

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden is convinced that solar power will become the world’s “dominant backbone” for energy. This view is shared by fossil fuel experts and even formerly skeptical organizations such as the International Energy Agency. Cheaper and more efficient energy storage through batteries will make the shift to solar inevitable. Solar has already exceeded expectations, surpassing the IEA’s projected growth by five years and surprising experts with its cost decline. Governments are now running auctions to attract solar-farm developers, with the UK seeing solar bids dropping below the cost of nuclear electricity. The power of the sun is becoming the most significant and reliable source of renewable energy.

Revolutionizing Energy Generation

The growing interest in solar energy has led to increasing research in solar cell technology to improve efficiency. Theoretical efficiency for single junction silicon panels peaks at around 34%, but 25% is a practical maximum. However, incorporating more layers and materials might produce 50% efficient cells. New production methods for creating silicon wafers have also made solar panels more cost-effective. Furthermore, power utilities are increasingly using batteries to store solar energy and release surplus peak-period supply as heat. Solar farms also use tracking mounts to follow the sun or oversize by attaching more panels than their inverters can handle to stabilize the daily flow of photovoltaic energy. Proper financing of solar farms would encourage more investment in the industry, as they are known to last up to 35 years. By investing in solar energy, policymakers and investors can create reliable, long-term returns and cut back on the need for fossil fuel plants.

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