Green Family Lecture Series: “A World Predominately Powered by Solar and Wind Energy?” by Walter Kohn

May 29, 2012

The Lecture

Walter Kohn, Nobel Laureate, University of California Santa Barbara, presented the 2012 Green Family Lectures at the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics in May 2012.

Public Lecture:
A World Predominately Powered by Solar and Wind Energy?
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Fowler Museum, Lenart Auditorium


It is widely recognized that the fossil fuels, oil and natural gas, which currently provide almost 60% of the world’s energy consumption, will be largely exhausted in a few decades. At the same time world population will have increased by an estimated 30 to 40 percent by mid-century.

To avoid a catastrophic energy shortage by mid-century, these fuels must be replaced by ecologically acceptable and sustainable alternatives. Solar and wind power appear to me the most promising candidates. Although, at the present time they constitute only ~ 2 percent of the global energy consumption, their production has recently been rising by a spectacular 30 to 40% per year, or a factor 15 per decade and 225 in 20 years.

This arithmetic suggests that the entire deficit stemming from the impending exhaustion of oil and gas might be compensated in about 10 to 20 years by continuing aggressive commitment to solar and wind energy. My lecture will examine this speculation. I find that it provides useful guidelines for the second half of the century and beyond. At the same time, I find a very serious energy deficit during the one to two decades of transition from the present (oil-gas)-era to the (sol-wind)-era, which will require additional measures.