Revisiting the Terawatt Challenge

Sarah Kurtz, Ashling Leilaeioun, Richard King, Ian Peters, Michael Heber, Wyatt Metzger, Nancy Haegel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus Citations


Richard E. Smalley, in 2003, defined the Terawatt (TW) Challenge as “Adapting our energy infrastructure to simultaneously address diminishing oil resources and rising levels of atmospheric CO2.” Smalley, best known for the discovery of C60, for which he received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, continued to address the challenges of anthropomorphic and natural global energy flows until he passed away in 2005. Smalley challenged the world to transform the energy sector. He envisioned electricity transmitted by high-voltage direct current (DC) lines from massively deployed solar plants in sunny areas and remotely sited nuclear plants. He also envisioned using advanced batteries for local storage of energy. To meet the needs of ~10 people in a world with a dwindling oil supply, Smalley asserted that the world would need to transform its fossil-fuel-driven 14-TW (average power) energy used in 2003 to a largely renewable-energy-driven 30–60 TW (average power) in 2050. This would be possible only if solar-electricity costs could be drastically reduced. The challenges associated with this transition have been called the “Terawatt Challenge.”
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)159-164
Number of pages6
JournalMRS Bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5K00-75520


  • photovoltaics
  • terawatt challenge


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