Taming the Sun

Taming the Sun

Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet

By Varun Sivaram

How solar could spark a clean-energy transition through transformative innovation—creative financing, revolutionary technologies, and flexible energy systems.

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Solar's Future
Friday, 25 May, 2018





How solar could spark a clean-energy transition through transformative innovation—creative financing, revolutionary technologies, and flexible energy systems.

Solar energy, once a niche application for a limited market, has become the cheapest and fastest-growing power source on earth. What's more, its potential is nearly limitless—every hour the sun beams down more energy than the world uses in a year. But in Taming the Sun, energy expert Varun Sivaram warns that the world is not yet equipped to harness erratic sunshine to meet most of its energy needs. And if solar's current surge peters out, prospects for replacing fossil fuels and averting catastrophic climate change will dim.

Innovation can brighten those prospects, Sivaram explains, drawing on firsthand experience and original research spanning science, business, and government. Financial innovation is already enticing deep-pocketed investors to fund solar projects around the world, from the sunniest deserts to the poorest villages. Technological innovation could replace today's solar panels with coatings as cheap as paint and employ artificial photosynthesis to store intermittent sunshine as convenient fuels. And systemic innovation could add flexibility to the world's power grids and other energy systems so they can dependably channel the sun's unreliable energy.

Unleashing all this innovation will require visionary public policy: funding researchers developing next-generation solar technologies, refashioning energy systems and economic markets, and putting together a diverse clean energy portfolio. Although solar can't power the planet by itself, it can be the centerpiece of a global clean energy revolution.

A Council on Foreign Relations Book


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262037686 392 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 46 b&w illus.


$19.95 T ISBN: 9780262537070 392 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 46 b&w illus.


  • The book is not gloomy. It lays out the history, promise, and pitfalls of solar technology with an easy-going lack of wonkishness. But it offers a sobering message that may be as prescient—and as readable—as Robert Shiller's Irrational Exuberance was before the dotcom and housing crises of the 2000s

    The Economist

  • The book is both the best available overview of where the industry finds itself today, and a road map for how it can reach that brighter future....

    Financial Times

  • The first important policy book of 2018.

    Bloomberg View

  • Foreign Affairs Best of Books 2018. Sivaram's enlightening and candid book describes both the enormous progress that has already been made in exploiting solar energy and the major obstacles to further progress.

  • Sivaram includes a raft of case studies, from current research on the photovoltaic materials called perovskites to Off Grid Electric, a start-up aiming to electrify swathes of Africa by 2019.


  • Taming the Sun is an even-handed untangling of a situation that can appear a mess of contradictions

    Engineering and Technology Magazine


  • Varun Sivaram takes us inside the world of alternative energy innovation. He's an optimist, but a realistic one: he knows time is running short for the public and private sectors to join forces. Taming the Sun is a must-read look into the limitless potential of an energy source as timeless as the sun that may very well save the earth.

    John F. Kerry

    68th U.S. Secretary of State; former U.S. Senator (D-MA)

  • Taming the Sun makes a compelling case that not confronting climate change could have dire consequences and, at the same time, makes a powerful case for the promise of solar energy. Everyone from physicists to investors to legislators should find the book instructive. Sivaram is even-handed and non-ideological in building his argument, but as he makes clear, progress ultimately depends on the political will to act.

    Robert Rubin

    70th U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; former Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs

  • Solar is the fastest-growing energy industry in the world, and it is at the heart of the clean energy revolution that is transforming technologies and economies around the world. Varun Sivaram's new book is an important primer about the global solar energy industry and the potential this energy source has to improve the lives of people and to help protect our planet and our future.

    Ed Markey

    U.S. Senator (D-MA); Chair, Senate Climate Change Action Task Force

  • Unlike any time since 1900 the world's energy system is in play. The futures—what society wants, and what will actually happen—are hard to fathom yet vitally important. Solar power lies at the center of this drama. Elegantly written and expertly argued, Varun Sivaram's new book is a stellar guide to the technologies and policies that will determine whether solar power meets its potential.  His sober optimism is infectious.

    David Victor

    Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego; Co-Chair, Brookings Institution Energy Security and Climate Initiative

  • If you want to understand the history and the future of solar energy—one of the most important and transformative technologies of the 21st century—Taming the Sun is the book to read. Sivaram brings to bear scientific expertise in the most exciting frontiers of solar photovoltaics and interweaves science with business insights and nonpartisan policy recommendations. The result is the authoritative, balanced, and comprehensive text that the field has been waiting for.

    Arun Majumdar

    Professor and Co-Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy, Stanford University; Founding Director of ARPA-E and former U.S. Undersecretary of Energy

  • In Taming the Sun, Varun Sivaram makes a level-headed, yet compelling case for the role that solar energy can play in addressing climate change. His book not only introduces the solar technologies that are potentially significant, but also what is required to fully commercialize them from a scaling, funding, and policy perspective. It is an important and non-ideological contribution to discussion and decision making in a critical arena.

    Shirley Ann Jackson

    President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Professor of Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy; Professor of Engineering Sciences