The solar revolution

Tuesday 2nd December 2014 @ 19:00

Non-Member: £12.00 ; Staff: £5.00 ; Student: £3.00

Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Department of Physics


The sun can supply all our electricity using existing technology and future developments could see solar power replacing petrol.



Keith Barnham is Emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College London. He started his research career in experimental particle physics working in research laboratories at CERN in Geneva and the University of California Berkeley.

In his book called The Burning Answer, Professor Barnham contends that, despite our much higher energy demands now than in earlier periods of human evolution, our sun can provide all our primary energy needs again. Solar technology can save us from the threats of global warming, diminishing oil resources and nuclear disaster, provided we don't allow politics to stand in our way.

 The Burning Answer is available from The Guardian Bookshop here.

He begins the book with Einstein's two great equations from 1905 and traces the consequences that led to our present impasse. You already know one of them, but the other, simpler equation, describing the interconvertibility of light and electricity (the photoelectric effect), is the equation that led to the silicon solar cell. Barnham argues that E = mc² is Bad and E = hf is Good.

Despite their level-pegging in 1905, these two equations produced results at very different rates: nuclear research led to the atomic bomb inside 40 years, with nuclear-powered electricity a decade later. The first the world knew of the photoelectric effect was the photocell-operated automatic door, patented in 1959 and emphatically not the stuff of Manhattan Projects; silicon solar cells first powered a calculator in 1978.

His vision is clear: making energy from CO2 solves two problems at once. It transforms CO2 from the problem to the solution. When we can produce biomass from CO2 and sunlight we will have options on what to do with it. Unlike the electricity from solar cells it is stored solar energy, to use when and where we choose. Besides producing our energy, plastics, drugs, paints and so forth from it, we will be able to control to some extent how much of it re-enters the atmosphere as CO2.

Optionally followed by supper (this can be booked on the event booking form).
After the lecture a Friends' Table has been reserved at a local restaurant to entertain the speaker and for any of the audience who would like to join us to continue the evening's discussion. A two-course fixed price supper is served including wine, coffee and service charge.
Or if you have already booked for the event and now want to join us for supper Book Supper now

Venue: SAF Building, Imperial College London

Campus Map reference 33
on the Imperial College London Map