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Who framed George Cove and kidnapped the solar future?

Who framed George Cove and kidnapped the solar future?

Oxford postdoc Sugandha Srivistav discusses her research on a 1909 kidnapping that may have changed energy history. And why it's relevant during COP28.

Welcome back to Wicked Problems. The climate tech show and newsletter that knows better than to mess with former president of Ireland Mary Robinson.

In this episode, Richard Delevan is joined by Dr. Sugandha Srivistav of the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Sugandha rediscovered the story of George Cove, a forgotten inventor who may have stumbled on a working photovoltaic cell - whose “sun-ray machine” gained the equivalent of tens of millions in investment dollars and worldwide media attention. In 1909, decades before Bell Labs in the 1950s started to pick up where he left off. Why have we never heard of him? It might have something to do with his claim that he was kidnapped and told he’d be released if he accepted a payoff and stopped his research. Two years later his company disappeared.

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Srivistav applied Wright’s Law to imagine what would have happened if Cove’s work had led to other innovations in solar PV - and reckons that solar would have become the cheapest source of electricity at least 20 years earlier.

How else could the world be different? Would we be having a climate crisis at all?

Read her October 2023 report: Lost potential: how the kidnapping of a solar energy pioneer impacted the cost of renewable energy and the climate crisis

And her article in The Conversation.

Sugandha’s Catalysts:

The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904), by Ida Tarbell

The Current War (2017), starring Benedict Cumberbatch

Titan, The Life of John D. Rockefeller (1998), by Ron Chernow

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Thanks for listening.

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Wicked Problems
Wicked Problems - Climate Tech Conversations (Subscriber Feed)
A show about climate tech - the intersection of people, politics, technology, and capital that will help shape the future. And whether you'd want to live in it.