Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

It’s time for a coordinated international effort to fast-track innovations

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Nasa’s Apollo programme showed how a stupendous goal could be achieved with amazing speed if the will and resources were there. The basic concepts were understood. A massive commitment of money and skill landed men on the Moon within a decade – a feat that inspired a generation.

Providing clean energy for the world is a similar challenge – we know the basic technologies, the development path is clear, and more resources can hugely accelerate progress.

The one difference is that Apollo was an American project aiming to “beat the Russians”. In contrast, this drive to reach new frontiers in clean energy has the further bonus that could promote cooperation across the world.

It’s hard to think of a challenge more inspiring to young engineers than providing sustainable energy sources for the developed and developing world. It’s a positive and forward-looking vision.

That’s why I’m happy to be associated with the project that has been launched today: to set up a coordinated international programme for focused research and development into solar energy, energy storage, and smart grids. We hope it will get traction internationally.

Some of the key technologies are developing quickly. It’s time for a coordinated international effort to fast-track these innovations. Why shouldn’t worldwide energy research be on a scale comparable to medical research?

John Schellnhuber, for several years Angela Merkel’s adviser on climate issues, has said that an “Apollo-type project could well become a tipping point on the road towards global sustainability”. Let’s hope his response is paralleled by advisors to other governments.

Lord Rees is an astrophysicist and former President of the Royal Society