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Quantum leap

To realise the potential of solar energy will require technological and scientific advances to enable the full energy cycle of capture, conversion and storage to be integrated into an interdependent, synergistic and globally scalable system. By Nathan Lewis, professor of chemistry, Beckman Institute and Kavli Nanoscience Institute, California Institute of Technology

The sun is the champion of all energy sources. Sunlight has provided, through photosynthesis, the energy from which all of our fossil resources were formed, as well as the energy that sustains life on earth and powers the wind, the tides, hydrological flows and the climate. More energy from sunlight strikes the earth in one hour than all of the energy consumed by humans in an entire year. Global primary energy consumption is around 410 exajoules a year, equivalent to an average thermal power consumption of 13.5 terawatt hours (TWh). The sun provides a staggering 120,000 TWh/y of power to the earth, far more than humans could ever use. An under-utilised energy resource Yet sunlight is an u

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