Interview of the Week, Varun Sivaram, Author of “Taming the Sun”

Varun Sivaram is a Senior Research Scholar at the Global Center for Energy Policy at Columbia University and an expert on solar energy policy and development.

ODP:  In your book called Taming the Sun, you have talked about how solar can be the centerpiece for a global energy revolution.  How much do you think renewables will make up of our energy mix here in the U.S.? 

VS:  …Today around the world solar energy is a little 2% of global electricity production — that means it is less than 1% of global energy production. So, it might sound like solar energy has a very long way to go.  But actually the last decade of solar has been tremendous.  Solar has exponentially grown around the world, in particular in India where I just was.  And I think for years to come that growth is going to continue.  The way the world is headed I think we can count on solar energy generating roughly ten percent or maybe a little more of global electricity by the year 2030…and then by 2050 in my book Taming the Sun I set a target of 33% solar electricity…

ODP:  In your view, how much has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the renewable energy industry?

VS:  What’s surprising to me is that the COVID-19 pandemic has actually been easier on renewable energy than on other sources…that’s not to say that renewable energy is not in trouble because of the pandemic. If we can’t continue to build renewable energy at the same rate, and frankly a much faster rate is what we are going to need, then this gap in construction activity could set back efforts to continue the growth of renewable energy, both wind and solar power…I think this is actually a very opportune time for countries around the world, and particularly the United States, to invest in innovation…Look the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly caused an immediate shock to the economy, and what we need is immediate relief.  But we also need long term economic recovery. And in the long-run, investments in innovation…are one of the most effective ways of generating sustainable and good jobs…

ODP:  What do you think is so promising about the innovation section of the House Democrats’ Climate Crisis Action Plan?

VS:  I’m thrilled with the provisions in the House Select Committee’s Majority Plan…The plan includes a call to increase spending on research, development, and demonstration of new technologies to $35B by 2030…

ODP:  You are working on a new report called “Energizing America” that provides a roadmap for transforming the American economy to be a clean energy economy and a leader in the world?  What do you think it will take in terms of an investment by the government and the private sector to get us there?

VS: …We have put together “Energizing America” to provide a roadmap for the U.S. government to launch a national energy innovation mission…today we spend 5x less on energy innovation than we spend on health innovation, less than 10x what we spend on defense innovation and I think it is time to elevate energy innovation to be a core national priority…

For more of our interview with Varun, click on the YouTube link above.  And check out his book Taming the Sun or watch his inspiring Ted Talk on solar energy innovation by clicking here. 

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