ian_mcewan's picture
Novelist; Recipient, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction; Author, Sweet Tooth; Solar; On Chesil Beach; Nutshell; Machines Like Me; The Cockroach

Philip Larkin began a poem with the hypothesis, If I were called in/ To construct a religion/ I should make use of water. Instead of water, I would propose the sun, and the religion I have in mind is a rational affair, with enormous aesthetic possibilities and of great utility.

By nearly all insider and expert accounts, we are or will be at peak oil somewhere between now and the next five years. Even if we did not have profound concerns about climate change, we would need to be looking for different ways to power our civilization. How fortunate we are to have a safe nuclear facility a mere 93 million miles away, and fortunate too that the dispensation of physical laws is such that when a photon strikes a semi-conductor, an electron is released. I hope I live to see the full flourishing of solar technology—photovoltaics or concentrated solar power to superheat steam, or a combination of the two in concentrated photovoltaics. The technologies are unrolling at an exhilarating pace, with input from nanotechnology and artificial photosynthesis. Electric mobility and electricity storage are also part of this new quest. My hope is that architects will be drawn to designing gorgeous arrays and solar towers in the desert—as expressive of our aspirations as Medieval cathedrals once were. We will need new distribution systems too, smart grids—perfect Rooseveltian projects for our hard-pressed times. Could it be possible that in two or three decades we will look back and wonder why we ever thought we had a problem when we are bathed in such beneficent radiant energy?