Renewable energy production could be cheaper than coal within 10 years if a new international research project achieves its goals. The Global Apollo Programme will explore novel ways of storing solar and wind power and investigate the development of smart grids to balance supply and demand.
The scheme has been welcomed by naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough as a possible solution to the threat posed from climate change. “At last – an authoritative, practical and comprehensible plan that could avert the catastrophe that is threatening our planet,” he said.
The initiative is being launched by stakeholders, including former UK government chief scientist, Sir David King, former BP chief executive Lord Browne, former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell and former Climate Change Committee chairman Lord Turner. Also involved is Lord Stern who wrote the key report on the economics of climate change, Astronomer Royal Lord Rees and economist Lord Layard.
The report warns that renewable energy has been “starved” of public investment in research and development, adding that finding ways to store energy is “a major research challenge”. Batteries, hydrogen, hydro schemes, thermal storage, flywheels and molten salt are all possible ways of storing renewables, while major improvements in grid software are needed for an efficient system.
The report’s authors added: “The greatest scientific challenge facing the world is the need for clean energy that costs less than that from fossil fuel. “Yet only 2% of world R&D (research and development) now goes on that problem. In the past, when our way of life has been threatened, governments have mounted major scientific programmes.”
Just $6bn (£4bn) a year is currently spent on renewable energy research and development, despite fossil fuel industries receiving annual subsidies of some $550bn (£360bn). The initiative would be funding by signatory countries committing to donating at least 0.02% of their economic output on the research programme.