Nobel Laureate and UCSB physics professor Walter Kohn told students to flex their brain power and try to solve the global energy problem at the UCSB Energy Forum inauguration last Tuesday.
The new forum is a student-run campus group focused on forms of energy. Kohn, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998, opened the meeting with a speech about the future of energy. He said the current issue with solar energy is cost-efficiency and that solar energy can be implemented globally if the energy produced from it becomes cheaper.
In 1992, the cost of solar energy was $6 per peak watt – the amount of energy produced by a solar cell at noon on a sunny day under certain conditions, Kohn said.
“In 2005, it decreased by a factor of three [making it $2],” he said. “What is the challenge for the next generation? A factor of two. Then you can sleep well about the future of energy.”
If 1 percent of the land area of the earth was covered in solar cells, Kohn said they would produce 300 terawatts – 300 trillion watts per year – which would fulfill double the energy used globally two to three years ago. Implementing solar energy on a global scale would therefore not only solve current issues, but also provide massive amounts of energy for future endeavors, he said.
“The energy problem is one of the great challenges of your generation,” Kohn said. “It is a challenge to your generation that you just have to succeed. If you want to look forward to a functioning world, you must succeed.”
The keynote speaker, UCSB chemical engineering professor Susannah Scott, gave details on the issues with renewable energy in the present and compared the United States to Easter Island.
“[Easter Island] was almost completely deforested to make the Easter Island statues,” Scott said.
The resulting loss of wood fuel then resulted in the humans on the island dying out from inadequate resources, she said.
Following the meeting was a question-and-answer session, which discussed the energy usage of China. China, the second-largest energy user in the world, has changed its focus from economic growth to sustainable energy, Kohn said.
Scott said she hopes the importance of the energy problem will unite the science and engineering departments on campus. She said students should get involved in energy research opportunities at UCSB.
“We want UCSB to be a leader in this field,” Scott said.