September 13, 2008

CalTech Energy Expert Says the Sun is the Answer


Energy expert Nate Lewis says nuclear fusion will solve our energy problems.

Fusion occurring on our nearest star, 93 million miles away, produces enough energy in an hour to power our world for a year, says Lewis.

We just need to find better ways to cheaply capture it and store it.

Lewis is the George L. Argyros Professor of Chemistry at CalTech, the California Institute of Technology. He has studied energy worldwide and recently co-authored a study on Arizona's energy future for the Communications Institute.

He speaks Wednesday at the University of Arizona as part of a lecture series on "Energy, Sustainability and the Environment."

We don't have to switch to renewable sources of energy anytime soon, Lewis said in a telephone interview from California Thursday.

"It depends on what you value," Lewis said.

"There is the low-cost axis, and if you value only the cost, it may not come for a very long time. There is plenty of coal - we know how to make it into liquid fuel, so even if we start to run out of crude, we have between hundreds and thousands of years."

"If we decided to value other things, like the cost of putting carbon as CO2 into the atmosphere and actually charged for it as a cost, renewables would have an economic advantage," he said.

Lewis said the problem with renewable energy from a strictly economic point of view is that it is a substitution product. The electricity generated from a solar panel does the same thing as that produced by a coal-fired plant.

"You're already getting electricity for a nickel a kilowatt, and I'm saying I'll get it from the sun and charge you 25 cents."

The only way to make that happen, he said, is to change our energy policy.

Once we decide to change policy and make the switch to renewables, the sun is the answer, Lewis said.

"It's more energy in one hour than we consume in a year, more in a year than in human history."

He paraphrased bank robber Willie Sutton's famous comment that he robbed banks because that's where the money is.

"Why should you get energy from the sun? That's where the energy is."

It won't be easy or cheap and it won't be quick, Lewis said, but he's beginning to think we might do something.

"Energy is the most important problem facing humanity in the 21st century. A chorus is saying that . . . the leading intellectual leaders of our country, including Paris Hilton," he quipped.


What: Nate Lewis, speaking on "Where in the world will our energy come from?"

When: 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: UA Center for Creative Photography, 1030 N. Olive Road.

Admission: Free.

Lewis' talk is part of a lecture series, "Energy, Sustainability and the Environment," presented by the UA's colleges of engineering, science, and agriculture and life sciences.

* Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573-4158 or [email protected]

Originally published by TOM BEAL, ARIZONA DAILY STAR.

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