The looming threat of global warming may be the greatest challenge of the present generation. Confronted by the potential of such a massive worldwide calamity, the average citizen often wonders what he or she can do.
In "SWITCHING TO SOLAR: WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM GERMANY'S SUCCESS IN HARNESSING CLEAN ENERGY" (Prometheus Books, $19) — an inspiring and optimistic story of a green revolution in the making — veteran science and technology journalist Bob Johnstone shows how the unrelenting efforts of a small band of grassroots activists have discovered ways to make solar a practical retail energy solution.
"Progress on the climate and energy front will require doing everything better—more sensible transport, more efficient factories and homes, cleaner forms of today's 'dirty' energy sources, and much fuller use of inexhaustible energy from the sun," said James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, author, and former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. "Bob Johnstone has the technical background, the reportorial curiosity and energy, and the descriptive skill to explain just how much is possible on this front, based on his reports from Germany, California, China, and elsewhere. Anyone who cares about the world's energy future will benefit from reading his book."
The crucial driver for the adoption of solar energy has not been technology but policy. Focusing on initiatives in Germany, Johnstone describes the use of the "feed-in tariff" as the most successful policy mechanism yet invented to spur widespread deployment of solar energy.
Turning to California – which recently enacted what USA Today called "the most aggressive alternative energy mandate in the U.S." – Johnstone reviews the efforts to make solar affordable at the municipal level. Under California's new law, utilities have until the end of 2020 to draw 33 percent of their power from solar panels, windmills and other renewable sources.
Johnstone describes the creativity of many startups fueled by venture capital. Innovation is being applied to every part of the process, from silicon production to financing and installation.
Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist, says "Bob Johnstone is surely right about the future importance of solar power, and he explores its prospects and potential in a compelling, accessible, and appealingly positive way."
The details may still be uncertain, but the solar revolution is underway.
About the Author: Bob Johnstone (Melbourne, Australia) is the author of "Brilliant!: Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology"; "We Were Burning: Japanese Entrepreneurs and the Forging of the Electronic Age"; and "Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning." He has also contributed numerous articles on technology to Forbes, Nature, New Scientist, MIT Technology Review, Wired and the Far Eastern Economic Review.