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Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects [Hardcover]

by Vaclav Smil
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 26, 2010 0313381771 978-0313381775

Energy transitions are fundamental processes behind the evolution of human societies: they both drive and are driven by technical, economic, and social changes. In a bold and provocative argument, Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, ProspectS≪/i> describes the history of modern society's dependence on fossil fuels and the prospects for the transition to a nonfossil world. Vaclav Smil, who has published more on various aspects of energy than any working scientist, makes it clear that this transition will not be accomplished easily, and that it cannot be accomplished within the timetables established by the Obama administration.

The book begins with a survey of the basic properties of modern energy systems. It then offers detailed explanations of universal patterns of energy transitions, the peculiarities of changing energy use in the world's leading economies, and the coming shifts from fossil fuels to renewable conversions. Specific cases of these transitions are analyzed for eight of the world's leading energy consumers. The author closes with perspectives on the nature and pace of the coming energy transition to renewable conversions.

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Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects + Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate + Energy: A Beginner's Guide (Beginners Guide (Oneworld))
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Editorial Reviews


Vaclav Smil has written another important book on energy which is quite amazing. Although there are a lot of important books about energy, as an author Smil is in a class by himself in terms of breadth and depth. -- Bill Gates

[Smil] has an eye for detail as he quantifies many historical amounts, providing a much needed reality check for any energy transition scenario under consideration. --The Oil Drum

• Offers a controversial, interdisciplinary thesis that challenges the expectation that significant progress in the energy transitions favored by President Obama's energy policy can be effected during his term in office

• Shows specifically why hopes for a rapid transition to a world dominated by renewable energy conversions rest more on a wishful thinking than on technical, economic, and social realities

• Tackles this important subject in light of long-term historical perspectives, providing both global and national coverage in a no-nonsense analysis of the constraints on the tempo of U.S. and global energy transitions

• Provides a foundation for more rational energy policies

• Includes case studies of energy transitions in eight nations

• Presents graphs of energy transitions on global and national scales, showing both common features and idiosyncratic patterns

• Features photographs of the containment vessel of America's first nuclear reactor and of a stationary gas turbine

• Provides a thorough bibliography

"Vaclav Smil has written another important book on energy which is quite amazing. Although there are a lot of important books about energy, as an author Smil is in a class by himself in terms of breadth and depth."


"Recommended. Students and general readers, all levels."




"Energy TransitionS≪/i> is the place to go for science-based climate/energy policy analysis, as nations are increasingly squeezed between growing energy demand and avoiding adverse climate change by phaseout of fossil fuel carbon emissions. Where will tens of carbon-neutral terawatts come from midcentury and beyond? Doable, but hard, Vaclav Smil looks unblinkingly into this abyss, drawing from his encyclopedic grasp of ecology and energy to explicate the historically unprecedented energy technology transition ahead."


Marty Hoffert, Professor Emeritus of Physics, New York University


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 178 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger (May 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0313381771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0313381775
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vaclav Smil is currently a Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. He completed his graduate studies at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Carolinum University in Prague and at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences of the Pennsylvania State University. His interdisciplinary research interests encompass a broad area of energy, environmental, food, population, economic, historical and public policy studies, and he had also applied these approaches to energy, food and environmental affairs of China.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (Science Academy) and the first non-American to receive the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology. He has been an invited speaker in more than 250 conferences and workshops in the USA, Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa, has lectured at many universities in North America, Europe and East Asia and has worked as a consultant for many US, EU and international institutions. His wife Eva is a physician and his son David is an organic synthetic chemist.

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Customer Reviews

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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read January 22, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This guy has to all together when it comes to energy. His vision is awesome. I captured some of his quotes for my web site.
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6 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Fire to Wire March 8, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
We certainly are the uncouth ones, leaving nature's paws and feathers for tires and metals driving cars on the endless pavement covering more and more of the land, flying in ever larger, faster more numerous airplanes that have netted the sky with vapor trails. Smil's book is about our transition into all this. He starts with wood fires, water wheels, windmills and animal powered wagons and machines then goes on to the steam engine, internal combustion engine, and gas turbine.
From Fire to Wire. First crouching before fire in smokey caves then recently flourishing everywhere by wire, to be lit, heated or cooled by electric machines from distant power plants.
As usual with Smil, the book is very good but it leaves out so much. All these machines are like a giant Stalagmite that has formed thanks to a drip drip of precious life, everything is built on a deposit of what came before, all the equipment, the power and convenience.
Smil is a historian of this stalagmite, a study of energy, apparatus, formed by human hands. I see him, the professor from Prague in a white lab coat lecturing us. We are spellbound, the topic, science and Smil partakes of it, he wants to be part of it why else would he choose the joule, a mere watt second as a base unit of energy? We buy energy at least by the kilowatt hour as we buy gasoline by the gallon not the drop.
Three million six hundred thousand joules per kilowatt hour. Smil wants to use big numbers. There he is in his white lab coat woven with fleece of the metric system a historian now with a chance to use big numbers like one of the scientists. We really have to bear down on those who want to appear scientific. They are after undue influence from the scientific badge.
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