4. The Switch (My favorite books in 2020)

The Switch: How solar, storage and new tech means cheap power for all, by Chris Goodall (2016)

I am one of those who think that the climate crisis is, in essence, an energy crisis – a point of view shaped mostly from reading David MacKay. Replacing our mostly fossil fuel-based sources in just a few decades is a technical and political challenge as no other in human history. Among the alternatives, solar energy is the one that is called to play the leading role and Goodall’s book brilliantly explains why this is the case.

Because of the extraordinary magnitude of the challenge, scalability should be the foremost attribute when considering sustainable energy alternatives. This is a point that Goodall makes from the onset of his book, and one that he keeps coming back to regularly.

At the moment of writing, photovoltaic (PV) capacity covers 3% of electricity demand globally, a number that sceptics of the solar cause laugh about. However, the point that they miss is the growing trend of this technology. To make this point clearer, Goodall uses the “experience curve”, a concept coined by the Boston Consulting Group back in the 1960s to link the fall in the unit production cost as a function of the accumulated production volume. For each doubling of this volume, costs typically fall between 20-30% in real terms.

The experience curve is not a theory (as the proud BCG consultants would like you to believe) but rather an observation. However, as far as you can go in the realm of business administration is a darn good observation. It has been identified in dozens of industries and in the production of hundreds of technologies.

Goodall’s analysis shows that PV technology is riding the experience curve, and with some reasonable assumptions concludes that solar-based sources might end up taking a significant slice of the whole energy pie. His book expands on many technical elements of the current technology and gives a glimpse of how the future will look like for solar energy.

Even if the predictions made in The Switch turn out to be wrong, it is a fantastic, enjoyable book that leaves you excited about the still-emerging technology of solar power.

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