Eminent UK scientists announce global clean energy "space-race" program

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A group of leading scientists, economists and businessmen from the U.K. have this week launched an ambitious program designed to channel the space-race spirit of the 1960s into pushing clean energy R&D spending into a new stratosphere.

The Global Apollo program’s chief aim is to make renewable energy sources cheaper than coal globally within 10 years, and is calling for an average $23 billion investment annually to be spent on R&D in the fields of solar and wind energy, energy storage, nuclear power, energy efficiency and carbon capture storage.

Led by Sir David King, the U.K.’s climate change envoy, and supported by ex-BP boss Lord John Brown, Lord Adair Turner and Lord Nicholas Stern, the team’s primary mission is to support programs that will make clean energy cheaper than coal over the next ten years.

"Once we get to that point, we are winning in all the battles," said King at the launch of the program this week. The scientist confirmed that a number of countries have already expressed an interest in the Apollo Plan, including officials in the U.S., India, Japan and China – four of the most influential solar markets.

That cited $23 billion figure is the equivalent funding in today’s money that took man to the moon in the 1960s, and it is this level of investment, gusto and ambition that is required to knock global C02 emissions off their projected course, says the team.

At current global carbon emission rates, the world will be subjected to more than 35 gigatonnes of C02 emissions annually by 2035. The Global Apollo plan is to reduce that figure dramatically to around 20 gigatonnes – which would hold global temperature rises below 2C and keep atmospheric C02 concentrations within a "safe" 450 parts per million.

To achieve this, the program’s backers claim, global research on renewable energy needs to rise from its current $6 billion per year to $15 billion per year.

"This challenge is at least as big as the challenge of putting a man on the moon," said program co-founder Lord Layard. "We believe that is an absolute minimum to crack this problem. The good news is that we are seeing this technological progress. The bad news is that it is simply not fast enough."

Some climate observers and solar commentators have remarked that the current pace of clean energy adoption – particularly within the PV industry – is already at a game-changing rate, and that this extra push, while welcome, is rooted in out-dated thinking.

Calls for investment in clean energy increase

Current subsidies for renewable energy amount to $101 billion globally, said the Global Apollo report – a figure that is dwarfed by the $550 trillion spent on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, according to the IMF. Greater investment in electricity storage is highlighted as one of the three key tenets of the Global Apollo program, alongside renewable energy development and greater integration and adoption of smart grids.

The program seeks not to create a central fund, but instead compel nations to up their spending on transitioning away from fossil fuels, and is asking those nations that commit to it to spend 0.02% of GDP on R&D.