Review of The Switch: How solar, storage and new tech means cheap power for all

A review of The Switch: How solar, storage and new tech means cheap power for all by Chris Goodall from Profile Books (2016, 288pp, _9.99)

Derek Wall

Chris Goodall, a Green Party member and energy expert, has written a very useful book on solar power. Once sceptical himself that solar would be cost competitive, especially in a cloudy country like the UK, Goodall shows that a revolution is occurring with solar dropping rapidly in price. We are moving to a situation where renewables will dominate power generation and solar will be the dominant renewable source of power.

This book is clearly written, full of examples and essential information about the switch from fossil fuels (in a sense, concentrated but dirty sun light energy) to solar. We are often told that solar is too expensive and that to move from carbon-based fuels we will have to embrace nuclear power. This book provides detailed arguments that Green Party candidates can use on the doorstep to show that a clean energy future is possible.

Solar panels have become more efficient, but the big change has been the evolution of methods of storage. If we can store solar energy in effective batteries, we can power an energy transformation. In discussing an array of technological improvements, Goodall shows that solar is advancing fast.

The book is full of interesting examples of technological innovation. For example, the Global Apollo project is a means of turning sunlight into liquid fuels and methane, meaning solar energy can be stored and released. Solar panel costs have fallen from several thousand dollars per watt in the 1950s to US$100 in the 1970s to just US50 cents today.

The book is about applied science and uses an evidence-based approach, making it useful for all of us who want to argue for a clean energy future. Many important technical debates from the extent to which lithium, needed for solar batteries, is likely to run out to the creation of artificial photosynthesis, are covered here.

Technology works in a political context; we need to think about how vested dirty fuel interests are likely to oppose solar, and we need to promote community ownership of solar as a democratic alternative. While political change is vital, a good understanding of scientific and technological factors is also vital, so I am sure in this regard the book will make vital reading for Green Party members.

Derek Wall, Green Party International Coordinator