Production of the ecologically sound alternatives is rising, says Kohn

It may be an “optimistic reading” in his words, but American physicist and Nobel laureate Walter Kohn believes that it is nevertheless distinctly possible that wind and solar will become dominate energy sources by 2020.

Reserves of fossil fuels (which now constitute 60 per cent of global energy consumption) would be largely exhausted and the world population would have increased by 30 to 40 per cent: however, this mid-century catastrophe could be averted by the “spectacular” rate of growth of wind and solar energy production, said Prof Kohn.

He was delivering a lecture “A world predominantly powered by solar and wind energy” at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) on Friday.

The “transition” year, which Prof. Kohn placed at 2020-21, will see wind and solar become the “dominant” sources of energy, exceeding oil and natural gas energy consumption.

An attempt towards such a transition was vital at this time when not a day went by without a reminder about global warming, he added.

Wind and solar energy did not contribute to global warming, and these alternatives would also help in mitigating the global competition over fossil fuels.

These ecologically sound alternatives constituted only around 2 per cent of the global energy consumption now, but their production had recently been rising by around 35 per cent per cent a year, Prof. Kohn said.

“I have spent half my career on semiconductor physics, but could not avoid my interests moving towards global warming and energy,” said the octogenarian who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1998 for his development of the density-functional theory.

A “radical change” in fuel consumption, Prof. Kohn hoped, would occur in 10 to 11 years.

Nuclear energy

As for nuclear energy, he warned that “the production of nuclear energy is closely tied with the production of nuclear weapons”. This would increase “the potential for a nuclear war in a world where there is high competition over energy”.

The lecture was organised by the Indian Academy of Sciences, IISc. and the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy.

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