Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller
"Energy for Future Presidents" is the educational, informative and accessible book on energy. The book covers popular topics on energy: energy disasters, energy landscape (modes of transportation), and "new" technologies. Professor of physics and author, Richard A. Muller, succeeds in providing the public a wonderful topical book that covers the most important topics on energy. The author uses a cleaver approach in the book; he plays the role as an energy advisor to you the future President. This enlightening 368-page book is broken out in five parts: I. Energy Catastrophes, II. The Energy Landscape, III. Alternative Energy, IV. What Is Energy? and V. Advice for Future Presidents.
1. Engaging, well-researched and well-written book. Accessible for the masses.
2. An important and interesting topic that is handled with integrity and fairness. Muller uses sound logic and provides compelling arguments to back his points. One of my favorite attributes of the author is the courage to be critical while remaining objective. Kudos.
3. Does a wonderful job of remaining objective. There is always an innate predisposition to head in a direction that one desires. The author cautions the readers of falling into the extreme traps of optimism and skeptical biases. "Claims based on conviction are not as valid as those based on objective analysis."
4. Effective use of charts, stats and facts that add value to the narrative of the book.
5. An interesting look at recent energy disasters: the disasters of Fukushima and the Gulf oil spill. Very unique and compelling arguments. Really does a wonderful job of keeping things in perspective. A welcomed approach.
6. One of the best and balanced treatments of global warming that I have come across. I really learned some new things here. Excellent!
7. Not afraid to be an equal-opportunity critique. As far as I can tell, Muller is not driven by a political agenda but on the proper objective scientific analysis.
8. As a good educator should, Muller does a great job of summarizing each chapter.
9. Focusing on the two largest issues in the energy landscape: energy security and climate change.
10. Exciting news for future US energy security.
11. A look at "alternative fuel" like natural gas. The technology, the potential...
12. Great quotes that capture the reality of our situation, "We don't have an energy crisis; we have a transportation fuel crisis. We don't have an energy shortage; we have an oil shortage. We're not running low on fossil fuels; we're running low on liquid fuels". Too good not to share but many others.
13. Great practical advice for improving energy usage in your home. "Energy productivity". Implementations that work and an interesting look at public transportation.
14. Very interesting findings. Here is an example: Do microwaves cause cancer? Find out.
15. A lot of good information on the different energy sources. What works? Why? Cost?
16. An educational look at nuclear power. Great stuff.
17. A discussion of five methods to produce controlled fusion.
18. What constitutes biofuels and what does not.
19. A critical look at electric autos.
20. A very interesting look at batteries. The different varieties, how they work, how practical they are and what the future holds.
21. A look at "clean coal".
22. A section defining key energy terms. More "sciency".
23. A wonderful job of wrapping it all up. Sound advice.
24. Links to notes worked great and bibliography provided
1. Some topics may still be beyond the comprehension of the layperson. The topic of controlled fusion comes to mind.
2. No formal bibliography.
In summary, this turned out to be a very enlightening book. It's a very topical and interesting book that covers all the main energy issues of our time. Muller does a wonderful job of establishing early on his approach to science and how he applied it to matters of energy. His courage and candor and his focus to remain objective won me over. His fair and objective treatment of global warming is what good science should always be about. This is an informative and practical book backed by good accessible science. I highly recommend it!
Further recommendations: "Winner Take All: China's Race for Resources and What It Means for the World" by Damisa Mojo, "The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality" by Richard Heinberg, "The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future Of Our Economy, Energy, And Environment" by Chris Martenson, "Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity" by James Hansen, "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate-Changed Planet" by Heidi Cullen, "Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil (Vintage)" by Peter Maass,"Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters" by Richard Rumelt, "Beyond Terror" by Chris Abbott, and "The Post-American World: Release 2.0" by Fareed Zakaria. I have reviewed all the aforementioned books; look for my tag, "Book Shark Review".
on October 25, 2012
Full Disclosure: I'm a physicist well versed in these topics. I was looking for a quality modern overview of these important energy topics that is accessible to the layperson so I could hand it to friends and family of all backgrounds.
While this book gets it right most of the time and is generally well written and accessible, it is fatally flawed in that it lacks the proper amount of research on some topics. Instead, on occasion he lazily (or worse, agenda orientated) replaces research with crude assumptions that lead him to incorrect numbers and conclusions. This is especially disappointing knowing that, as an PhD academically trained scientist, he is thoroughly trained in the merits of peer/expert review, but simply ignored such tools in favor of keeping a potentially controversial (and book selling) conclusion.
The most obvious gaffe is on the topic of plug-in vehicles. He makes wildly inaccurate and oversimplified assumptions about battery life that just are not founded in reality. Lithium ion batteries in current plug-in vehicles are high quality, thermally managed, and state-of-charge limited, which all work to dramatically improve the life of the battery. But he ignores these facts (or doesn't know them) and assumes they are equivalent to the cheapest laptop batteries you can find on the market and says all batteries will only last 500 charges. This leads him to the laughable conclusion that the Chevy Volt battery will have to be replaced after 20,000 miles. It's obvious he did ZERO research on this and did not speak to a single expert on this topic. The Chevy Volt battery is warrantied to 100,000 miles, so if he were even close to correct, then GM is already doomed to go out of business as it spends billions of dollars replacing batteries over the next few years. Of course, this won't happen because GM actually tested the batteries. Even more insulting is that when this book was published, there were already Volt owners with well over 20,000 electric miles on the road without seeing any noticeable battery degradation (e.g. [...]). Then the final facepalm comes when he contradicts himself by assuming batteries in traditional hybrids (e.g. the Prius), which he supports, can be recharged an infinite number of times (maybe because he owns one, so he was "forced" into doing a tiny bit of research), thus he does not apply the same battery lifetime assumptions in his cost-per-mile calculations as he did to plug-ins.
Now did he purposely misrepresent plug-in vehicles in order to sell books (or get it published)? Who knows. I'm guessing he did a "back of the envelope" calculation quite a few years ago about the viability of electric vehicles under some basic assumptions about batteries that he thought were true at the time. He then concluded, based off those assumptions, that the battery cost would outweigh the benefits. He then probably held on to that conclusion over the years until he threw it in this book with little further thought and absolutely zero research, perhaps because it already had a result he needed and/or wanted.
In short, despite being a good and mostly correct review on a majority of the topics, I just cannot recommend this book knowing some of the shortcuts that were taken. While there are probably countless more egregious misrepresentations on energy in other books, I hold this author to a higher standard being an academic PhD physicist and I'm truly disappointed.
on August 12, 2012
The name of the book is, "Energy for Future Presidents" written by Richard A Muller. I became aware of this important book while watching the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. Richard Muller was Rachel's guest and he was discussing his new book with her. This author had become a news item worth reporting on the show because he had changed from being a skeptic about global warming into a convinced scientist. He stated that global warming is real and that 99% of it is due to human causes. Moreover, there is an exact correlation with the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The author himself did not think he had changed his mind but had had an opportunity to thoroughly investigate the data on global warming in a scientific manner so that he could make an informed decision. Nonetheless, I think it is important that a renowned scientist has convinced himself that global warming is real. The controversy has become a political divide between Democrats and Republicans. It did not used to be that way. In fact, Republicans originally fostered the idea of " Cap and Trade". This concept had proven itself in solving the problem of acid rain due to coal fired generators. It allowed the free enterprise system to solve the problem in the most economical way. As of late however, it seems as though every Republican to a man swears that global warming is a hoax and a cap and trade is an onerous concept.
The book itself is a review of what scientists know about the energy problem not only in the United States but worldwide. In Part I of the book, entitled "Energy Catastrophes", Mr. Mueller discusses two recent energy disasters using a non-emotional analysis. One of the disasters is the tsunami in Japan that damaged the nuclear reactor site as well as homes and factories and human lives. He feels that the nuclear part of the disaster has been grossly overstated and he gives his reasons for that conclusion. Many people around the world wanted to completely disassociate themselves from nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster. However, Muller believes that nuclear energy is still a safe energy source and it is important that we not give up on it. He also discusses the Deep water Horizon accident in the gulf, which spurted oil into the sea for seemingly endless days. He also felt that the damage was grossly exaggerated and attempted put it in perspective. He felt the cleanup activities worked well.
In the third chapter, he discusses global warming and climate change. He provides enough background on the problem, that we can see its complexity, multiplicity of causes, cases of polar warming, sea level rise, and the difficulty in evaluating historical data.
In Part II of the book entitled "The Energy Landscape", he educates us regarding the different kinds of energy which include: natural gas, ocean methane, shale oil, etc. He also comments on recycled energy, energy security, fracking, liquid energy security and energy productivity. In Part III of the book entitled "Alternative Energy", discusses solar energy, photovoltaic cells, wind, energy storage, nuclear power, nuclear waste storage, fusion, biofuels, synfuels, hydrogen, geothermal, tidal power, and wave power. He also discusses electric automobiles in depth. Part IV entitled "What Is Energy?", Muller offers an optional chapter which would delight a physics major but is likely to lose the common reader. Part V entitled "Advice for Future Presidents", is a condensation of what was covered in the book previously and is directed to whoever the president might be in the future. The author has taken the view that a president cannot rely strictly on advice from his energy sector but must understand the basic concepts of energy technology so that combined with other considerations, can make the most intelligent decision.
Throughout the book, Muller has repeated his premise that natural gas the cheapest, most practical, most available, and most desirable form of energy available to the United States today. All other forms of energy should be compared to natural gas as a standard. Admittedly, it does generate carbon dioxide and water as byproducts of combustion. However, it is far cleaner than coal or oil. Moreover, United States has enormous reserves of natural gas which can be harvested by a process known as fracking. Muller advocates strong environmental laws with stiffer penalties governing this process of extraction because there are dangers to our drinking water and other resources.
Here are some of my personal thoughts as I read this book: overall the author did a good job of avoiding politics or being influenced by corporate interest. I didn't think so in the early chapters where he discussed the Gulf oil spill. He strongly stated that the dangers were over exaggerated. He may be right about that but I was bothered during the disaster by the lack of government oversight to this industry, the lack of preparedness by both the government and the industry to react to the disaster, and the smell of corporate greed throughout the whole affair. I learned a lot in reading this book, but I also had many preconceived ideas verified by the authors rigorous analysis. I agree with him that natural gas is the answer to many of our problems in the United States. It can free us from importing billions of dollars worth of Arab oil and free us from military and diplomatic activities in that region. It is very inexpensive and is likely to stay that way as the fracking activities expand. The author seems confident that adequate regulations and protect us from the hazards of fracking. I do not have the same faith in our Government as it switches back and forth between Democratic and Republican Administrations. The D's institute regulations and the R's undo them once again in power. The Republican presidential candidates in their 2012 debates wanted to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency, which is the only tool available to control natural gas production activities. Muller also strongly advocates more nuclear power facilities, especially those with the modern designs, which make them safe to operate. However he said little about terrorists activities at these sites. In my opinion, they would be prime targets for terrorists. I do not think there is a danger of a nuclear explosion, but explosives could be used to blow radioactive material into the atmosphere and contaminate wide area.
Do I recommend this book to you? The answer is yes because I believe we all should be informed citizens in a democratic society so that we can vote intelligently and so that we can guide public opinion towards practical solutions to important problems. The author is very knowledgeable and is definitely an expert on the topic of this book. Moreover, it is obvious to me that he has worked very hard to make these complex concepts understandable to the common man and specifically to future presidents.
Ralph Hermansen, August 12, 2012
on July 1, 2013
Great book. I have the same reservations as some others when it comes to the analysis of the electric vehicles. Also, his solar analysis is wrong - solar prices have fallen so much that kWh for kWh, it's a much better deal that wind nowadays. But the book outlines the impact of major disasters and whether or not they should influence national energy policy. It also covers the most comprehensive (by far) study on global warming and greenhouse emissions, a study that was funded by several extremely conservative groups, among others. Good read.
on October 22, 2012
This is a fine, non-dogmatic review of energy technology, and a hard-headed look at the reality of energy usage. Muller's views are challenging to both the right and left with regard to energy policy. It's a surprisingly optimistic look at the energy situation in the world. He claims that we have many options, and are not, in fact, short of energy for the foreseeable future. Muller acknowledges the reality of human-caused global warming, but then spends little time addressing it. It seems he does not believe the dangers to be as serious as some propose. I would have like to see a more involved discussion of various nuclear technologies, but, other than that, this book seems like a great way to clear the air in a debate often obscured by dogma and special interest.
on August 24, 2012
Readers who liked Muller's other book Physics for Future Presidents will like this one. It concentrates exclusively on energy policy for the United States. Carbon dioxide emissions are an important concern for Muller, but not to the exclusion of other concerns such as energy security and economic practicality. He makes a strong case for nuclear energy, but an even more-impassioned one for natural gas.
My primary complaint is about the Kindle edition: there are a few equations in the text that are not displayed correctly. I know what they are, since I'm a physicist, but the general reader probably will not. It's inexcusable for a publisher to flub this.
on August 6, 2012
Eloquent, insightful, wide-reaching. Something new on just about every page. You may want to skip the chapter on fusion -- but with 18 other great chapters, I'll allow the physicist a show-off shot in one. I've read several books on energy, including a couple of really good ones, but this is the best for the inquiring citizen (never mind future presidents).
on August 12, 2012
Excellent, careful analyses, even-handed. Sets the ground rules for the US energy debate.
I would have wished more analysis of global natural gas trading possibilities, since, eventually, with liquifaction/gasification and transport, natural gas trading will be important to US domestic markets. Complicated by the possibility that trading in fracking technology may be more important than trading in gas.
Anyone trying to think rationally about US (and world) energy should start here. I know of no other source that is as comprehensive, even-handed and current.
Debunks a lot of widely held and vehemently defended myths.
on August 17, 2013
I will start by admitting that I am a fan of Richard Muller. Before I even went to university I watched every lecture in his "Physics for future presidents" course at UC Berkeley, which was one of the first courses to become available online as a free webcast. I would describe Muller as an honest and rigorous scientist who is not afraid to speak his mind even when his views are controversial. He is also very critical of the way that different energy issues are portrayed in the media, something which you will realize if you read this book.
One good example of what can only be called overblown media reporting is what followed the BP oil spill in the Mexican gulf. When it happened the media was reporting on little else and many high standing politicians described it as one of the worst (sometimes the worst) environmental disasters in the history of mankind. What happened next? Suddenly the media moved on and I was surprised to learn (from this book) that though the initial explosion killed 11 workers, the subsequent oil spill only caused 6000-30.000 bird deaths. "Only" is indeed the appropriate term here, considering that glass windows kill 100.000.000 birds annually and power lines kill many million more. The BP oil spill was unfortunate, and it cost human lives, some birds and a lot of money to fix it, but it is clear that the media and the politicians got a bit carried away with this one.
Another so called " disaster" which got an unfair treatment in the media was the Fukushima power plant accident. To date not a single person have died from the radiation released and the prognosis is that a few hundred extra cancers, some of which could have a fatal outcome, will be the result of this "disaster". My Fukushima headline would have read: "No deaths from breakdown of old nuclear power plant even though it was hit with an 8.0 earthquake and a tsunami"... (also see my pre-fukushima post on the irrational fear of nuclear power as well as my Review of the book "Radiation").
Richard Muller spends a good deal of this book discussing the ever controversial topic of Global Warming. He was at a point very critical of the methodology used by climate researchers when they calculated the rate of global warming. For example it is not appropriate to use weather stations in populated areas because as population grows so does temperature. He also found some of the mathematics used... funky...
For this reason he did his own study, and unlike IPCC researchers this study was/is completely transparent with all data freely available for anyone who desires to make their own calculations. What did Muller find? Basically he says that the IPCC, despite their sometimes flawed methods, are correct. In other words, according to Muller the globe has warmed, and this warming has been due to human caused increases in atmospheric CO2 levels. While backing their overall conclusions about the temperature increase on earth Muller does not seem to share many peoples sense of pending disaster due to this warming. Models that predict the future climate of earth tends to have a lot of uncertainty associated with them, and it is almost impossible to know if we are able to come up with technologies that will significantly alter the future climate.
He also says that if we really want to prevent increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere we should turn our efforts to China. For quite a long time they have been building one coal plant per week spewing out not only CO2, but also huge amounts of other pollutants such as lead and arsenic. Convincing them to use clean energy sources such as solar or nuclear power (by paying them if necessary), makes a lot more sense than going for expensive alternatives in the west. That is, if you aim to achieve the maximal reduction of CO2 release per dollar, that dollar should be invested in China. Muller also reiterates several times throughout the book that energy conservation will be a huge part of the future. Proper isolation of houses, driving efficient cars etc can drastically reduce energy expenditure.
I have really only touched upon some of the issues that are discussed in this book. Muller offers a perspective on many other energy related issues such as Shale gas/oil, electric cars, fusion, wind/solar/water energy, etc etc. All in all this book is both very educational and at the same time a page turner (keep in mind though that I am kind of a nerd). If you are even just a little interested in the technologies and politics related to energy issues this book is a terrific buy!
on May 27, 2013
Nicely written book summarizing and detailing the various energy issues that we face today. His positions are well reasoned and backed with facts and arguments. I don't agree with all of his positions, but his case is well stated. I would recommend this book to someone looking for a general survey of energy issues.