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242 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nutrition Action for Energy Appetites
With Power Hungry, energy journalist and Austin apiarist Robert Bryce marshals lots of accurate numbers in context to make plain how modern culture exacts power from energy to save time, increase wealth, and raise standards of living. He also dispenses common sense to citizens and policy makers for an improved environment, a better, more productive economy, and more...
Published on April 16, 2010 by Jon Boone

36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Source of In-Depth Energy Information
Few science books are worth reading each and every page. Climatism, by Steve Gorham (reviewed here in March), is an exception. Power Hungry is not, but without doubt it contains more than enough great information to make it a terrific buy for anyone with a strong interest in the nation's energy supply.

I recommend reading only about 20 pages a day, as it is...
Published on September 21, 2010 by Jay Lehr

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242 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nutrition Action for Energy Appetites, April 16, 2010
Jon Boone (Oakland, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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With Power Hungry, energy journalist and Austin apiarist Robert Bryce marshals lots of accurate numbers in context to make plain how modern culture exacts power from energy to save time, increase wealth, and raise standards of living. He also dispenses common sense to citizens and policy makers for an improved environment, a better, more productive economy, and more enlightened civil society. Inspired by the environmental economics of Rockefeller University's Jesse Ausubel and the University of Manitoba's prolific Vaclav Smil, he makes the case for continuing down the path of de-carbonizing our machine fuels--a process begun two hundred years ago when we turned from wood to fossil fuels and huge reservoirs of impounded water. As the world's population continues to urbanize, people will inevitably demand cleaner, healthier, environmentally sensitive energy choices.

Today, the world uses hydrocarbons for 90 percent of its energy, getting a lot of bang for its buck. Bryce offers convincing evidence that, over the next several generations, particularly since broad energy transformations require much time and financial investment, relatively cleaner burning natural gas will provide a bridge to pervasive use of nuclear power--" the only always-on, no-carbon source than can replace significant amounts of coal in our electricity generation portfolio." And if nuclear ultimately becomes the centerpiece for the electricity sector, which constitutes about 40 percent of our total energy use, this development would accelerate the de-carbonization of the transportation and heating sectors as well.

His narrative transcends the current climate change debate. He thinks the evidence on either side is equivocal, at best provisional, and, even if it could be proven conclusively that humans were responsible for precipitously warming the earth by producing a surfeit of carbon dioxide, there is little that could be done about the situation now that would be consequential or practical, except embrace imaginative adaptation approaches.

Bryce organizes his ideas around four interrelated "Imperatives" that serve as a prime motif for human history and explain much contemporary circumstance: power density, energy density, scale and cost. He shows that, although energy is the ability to do work, what people really crave is the ability to control the rate at which work gets done--power. Performing work faster means more time to do something else. This begets an appetitive feedback loop, where more power unleashes more time to produce more power. As the scale of this process increases, costs are reduced, making what power creates more affordable.

In terms of economic efficiency and improved ecosystems, producing the most power in the smallest space at a scale affordable by all is what present and future enterprise should ensure.

The power density of fossil fuels, expressed in watts, BTUs, or horsepower, has been the lynchpin of our modernity, although they will eventually become depleted, perhaps over a few centuries or much sooner, as various peak oil and coal scenarios suggest. (Bryce shows that worldwide oil's marketshare has fallen over the last 35 years and the rate of decline will likely continue.) And they do have negative environmental consequences. Particularly coal, with such environmentally treacherous extraction techniques as strip mining/mountaintop removal, and toxic emissions. But their overall benefits at present outweigh the negatives in a comprehensive cost benefit analysis. Which is why they're so popular.

Hydrocarbons lift people out of poverty, literally empowering them to better health, wealth, and productivity. "The key attribute of hydrocarbons is their reliability," a precondition for coordinated economic and social convergence, which is the very hallmark of modern life. Planning to replace their capacity successfully will demand great ingenuity and the most advanced technology--not hyped-up premodern gadgetry like industrial wind technology.

Over the first seven chapters of his book, Bryce lays out the gargantuan scale of our energy consumption, bound on the one side by the existence of nearly seven billion people and the thirst for increasingly denser power supplies on the other. He shows why, if oil didn't exist, we'd have to invent it. Deploying helpful charts and graphs throughout, he demonstrates that we will not, indeed cannot, quit using hydrocarbons any time soon, since our daily consumption is equivalent to 226 million barrels of oil, equal to the total daily output of twenty-seven Saudi Arabias.

The world consumes nearly 7 billion horsepower a day, albeit unevenly, since Americans consume energy at 18 times the rate of people in Pakistan and India. America leads the world in reliable horsepower and produces about 74 percent of the primary energy it consumes. Moreover, it has more hydrocarbon reserves than any other nation. Yet, despite all this power, the United States leads the world in energy efficiency and per capital carbon emission reductions over the last fifteen years.

So why are so many willing to trade the high power density of coal, natural gas, and oil for such unreliable, low-power-density sources as wind and solar? Part II, The Myths of Green Energy, attempts to answer this question. Bryce looks closely at the claims for wind especially and debunks them all as mainly the result of snake oil, a too-gullible public suffused in scientific illiteracy, "happy talk" from media (viz, Thomas Friedman), and self serving bombast from industry pundits like T. Boone Pickens. Thinking that wind technology, for example, could put a dent in the use of fossil fuels as an "alternate" energy source is just plain goofy, akin to believing that a book of matches could melt a glacier. Believing that corn and cellulosic ethanol are friends of the environment and consumers is downright Orwellian. In truth, they reduce efficiency and performance while damaging machine engines, and raise the cost of food by shrinking food supply while depleting millions of acres of soil and siphoning off a sea of water. For shame.

Bryce reinforces the theme of his previous book, Gusher of Lies. The energy business is so vast and intricately global that it dooms any nation's quest for energy independence. Those who think more hybrid cars, wind machines, and solar cells will free the United States from its dependence on imports will be shocked to discover that those technologies hinge on rare earth elements obtainable almost exclusively in China. Which fact largely explains why the Chinese are rapidly becoming a dominant manufacturer and exporter of "green" technologies.

Bryce relishes challenging flimflam. Power Hungry demolishes the notion that oil is dirty; that carbon capture/sequestration schemes can be globally effective; that cap-and-trade/taxation/renewable energy credit ideas for reducing carbon dioxide emissions can do anything but worsen the situation, at the expense of tax and ratepayers; that plug-in electric cars will soon revolutionize the transportation sector; and that efficiency, desirable as it is as a means of conservation, can change the world.

Bryce's conclusions about better policy follow the logic of Sherlock Holmes: "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." By eliminating the imposters and exposing the disingenuous, he is then able to engage in rational discourse about the genuinely probable technologies that will in future slake our ginormous craving for power.

He states the problem in a way that suggests solutions. If society seeks cleaner air and water, if consumers seek cheaper energy, if environmentalists seek open vistas and large swaths of untrammeled nature, if politicians seek a significant reduction of greenhouse gasses while maintaining, even expanding, the power requirements of modernity--then the future of energy conversion for electricity must hinge on increased use of natural gas in the near term while the world prepares for nuclear power over the long haul. Given the magnitude of the situation, anything else is hope. And prayer.

Recounting the sorry recent history of natural gas supply, Bryce explains how pandering politics and the coal industry combined to reduce its availability, making the public think the resource had been exhausted, However, new discoveries of extensive shale deposits in the United States, along with improvements in extraction technologies, now make natural gas much more available. That it burns 50 percent cleaner than coal, emits no toxic particulates, and is so versatile, make it the ideal transitional fossil fuel for the next generation or so. As more supplies become available, costs will continue to drop, making natural gas more appealing to consumers. To protect against damaging the ground water and pollutant leakage through gas lines, the industry would have to be carefully regulated, particularly in remote areas during the extraction process.

Still, as good as they are, carbon-based fuels, even those as beneficial as oil and natural gas, continue to put us at odds with our potential for informed stewardship of the planet. Our best scientists tell us we must do better in achieving goals of sustainable biodiversity and healthier ecosystems. To do so, we should sooner than later move beyond sloganeering and heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

As Bryce says, "nuclear goes beyond green." It provides two million times the power density of fossil fuels and can be contained in a small area, preserving the countryside. Concerns about its safety because of exaggerated news accounts of the damage inflicted by the Three Mile Island/Chernobyl accidents, along with the dramaturgy wrought by Hollywood, have allowed fear mongering to prevail over sound science. Despite not building a single nuclear plant in thirty years, the US still has more nuclear facilities than any nation in the world. US nuclear plants have a capacity factor of 92 percent, significantly better than any other generating system. Even though nuclear has only 11percent of the nation's installed capacity, it nonetheless satisfies 20 percent of demand. The nation's largest grid, the PJM, uses nuclear for 35 percent of its generation, and has done so safely for over twenty years.

For the last thirty years, France has employed nuclear for 80 percent of its electricity consumption. The French reprocess most of the spent fuel, capturing the uranium and other materials so that they can be sent through the reactors again, reducing "the volume of waste by a factor of two or three." Moreover, Bryce highlights the prospects for a fusion-fission transmutation system in the near future that would create additional fuel for electricity and medical applications. It would also substantially reduce radioactive half-life time--while preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The potential for newer, smaller, safer nuclear power plants is enormous, and Power Hungry explores a range of what is probable. Today, the capital costs of large nuclear plants are very high, but they can run continuously without interruption day and night year after year. Their long-term maintenance costs are relatively low. Compared with building a large hydro dam, however, which has enormous negative environmental consequences for entire watersheds, construction costs for nuclear are a bargain. Contrasted with the incredibly high capital costs of wind projects, which provide only sporadic energy and no modern power performance, nuclear is incomparable, for there is no apples-to-apples comparison to be made with wind. How can one compare the best performing car ever made with a clunker that never works as desired?

Bryce brings his narrative sweep to a conclusion by calling for rethinking what the notion of green should mean. In particular, he urges that environmentalism return to the days when those commanding the movement revered hard facts, treasured good science, and understood that culture was part of nature, not mystically outside of it. They knew the "hard truth" that "energy production is not pretty, cheap, or easy." Although they may have been initially seduced by the allure of "renewable energy," they would have finally understood that the whole concept of renewables is problematic, since nothing is continually renewable; they only appear that way from the short perspective of human time. As many have discovered about the only widely effective renewable, impounded hydro, simply because a source of power is clean-burning does not make it "green." Informed environmentalists should know that the current push for wind technology is based on the mistaken belief that wind is greener than hydrocarbons such as oil and natural gas.

Power Hungry also urges renewed support for the International Atomic Energy Agency; putting the skids on the ethanol boondoggle by short-circuiting Iowa's stranglehold on presidential primaries; pushing for greater scientific/engineering literacy and less political grandstanding in public policy; banning mountaintop removal coal extraction techniques; and imposing coordinated reality on national energy policy. The policy goal should be to promote "cheap abundant energy" consistent with the protection of sensitive habitat, vulnerable species of flora and fauna, and a more diverse and empowered planet.

The book covers so much ground across so many topics that it is unfair to quibble about details that are not fully accounted for. Bryce gets the important ideas right. He spends much time trimming the sails of the industrial wind fandango, in part because he knows it is inconsequential as an energy source but also because public dollars invested in it represent dollars not spent on effective power. He couldn't find a shred of empirical evidence that wind has been responsible for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions in the production of electricity--or that it has contributed to any reductions in fossil fuel use. Even in the wind poster nation of Denmark. Instead, he found only "projections" offered up by industry trade organizations or government agencies beholden to wind success that were uncontaminated by reality--much like college football polls.

Most importantly, he tells why wind can't offset meaningful CO2 emissions or replace fossil fuels. To do this, he introduces the work of engineers like Australian Peter Lang, Canadian Kent Hawkins, and Britain's Jim Oswald, who demonstrate how wind's existential volatility and unreliability must make everyone and everything involved with wind integration work much harder just to stand still, in the process greatly increasing both cost and thermal activity. Wind is a fuel supplement that requires a lot of supplementation, since no one can be sure how much of its capacity will be available for any future time. A wind plant's output unpredictably bounces around between zero and its maximum possible yield.

The challenge is how to reconcile the square peg of firm reliability with the round hole of wind's fluttering caprice. Since it must match supply perfectly with demand at all times, no grid can allow wind volatility to be loosed by itself: It must be entangled with proactive, highly dynamic conventional generation to make its capacity whole. More than 70 percent of any wind project's maximum capability must come from reliable, flexible conventional generation, typically natural gas units working inefficiently to do so. These inefficiencies accumulate quickly, eventually consuming more fuel in the same way that an automobile does in stop-and-go traffic.

As Lang shows, even the best possible thermal entanglement with wind, comprised of several types of natural gas systems, can save only 15 percent more CO2 than can be achieved with the natural gas systems alone, without any wind. Inefficient use of natural gas systems with wind, such as responsive open cycle units normally used only at peak demand, would save no net carbon dioxide emissions. As Hawkins shows, using a combination of coal and natural gas for wind balancing results in more carbon emissions than would be the case without any wind. Any fossil fuel saved when it is sporadically displaced by wind is often consumed in even greater volume as it is called upon to compensate for wind's relentless skittering.

More than 2500 skyscraper-sized wind turbines, spread over 500 miles of terrain, and a passel of natural gas units at 90 percent of wind's maximum output--and hundreds of miles of new transmission lines/voltage regulation--would be required to provide parity with the capacity of a 1500MW nuclear facility.

Bruce makes vividly clear that wind is neither clean nor green--and is in the hunt solely because of massive government support, which is 23 times the per kilowatt-hour subsidy given for fossil-fired plants that produce copious reliable capacity. It provides only sporadic energy--not modern power performance. Wind is not only inimical to all the primary goals of modern electricity production--reliability, affordability, security; it also actively subverts them. It is not cutting edge, effective, and progressive; rather, it is antediluvian, dysfunctional, and uncivil.

In many ways, wind resembles the character Major Major Major Major, made so indelible by Joseph Heller in his immortal Catch-22. Like wind, even when the Major was in, he was out. Even more apropos is the connection with Major Major's father, a Calvinist alfalfa farmer who received a public subsidy for every acre of crop he did not grow, using the money to buy more land on which not to grow alfalfa. He thought such practice was divinely ordained, proclaiming, "You reap what you sow," while maintaining that federal aid to anyone but farmers was "creeping socialism." With only a few word changes, this is the line trumpeted by the American Wind Energy Association on behalf of its limited liability companies.

Spawned, then supported, by government welfare measures at considerable public expense, wind produces no meaningful product or service yet provides enormous profit to a few wealthy investors, primarily multinational energy companies in search of increased bottom lines through tax avoidance. Wind does reap what it sows, masquerading as a power source to hide its real identity as an Enronesque tax shelter generator.

Power Hungry sets the stage for an inquiry about why wind has become so politically attractive. Gullibility and dimwittery are surely part of the explanation, as Bryce suggests. But the real causes may have more to do with the nefarious acquiescence of our regulatory and government agencies--combined with how the power industry itself has embraced wind. Why aren't utilities in general, and regulatory agencies and grid controllers in particular, being held accountable for what they're doing to ratepayers by supporting generation that must destabilize the electricity supply/transmission system? To what extent are corporations that are heavily involved with coal, natural gas, and oil also involved with wind? The bipartisan dive to the bottom now enabling the wind scam is worthy of another book.

As it is, Power Hungry provides a grand tour of our energy landscape in the best journalistic tradition of serving the public good, exposing the cant of received wisdom and using the authority and weight of good numbers to put ideas into proper perspective. Bryce's numbers provide giant shoulders upon which to stand, allowing us to see farther and better, increasing our knowledge and improving the odds for institutional wisdom. There are few things more important to the world's life, liberty, and happiness than an enhanced ability to convert abundant energy into high power at affordable cost. Robert Bryce, with buoyant bonhomie, marks the way.
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105 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going, Going, Gone. Another Home Run for Bryce, April 27, 2010
You just have to feel sorry for the advocates of global warming. They've had a bad year. First it was the continuation of a decade of stable or slightly cooling weather, completely unpredicted by the climate models. Then it was the devastating scandals, not only in the Climate Research Unit but in NASA and the IPCC as well. To add insult to injury, there was the jarring failure of Copenhagen. Then the failure of Congress to adopt a cap and trade scheme when they had a Democratic President and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Now the coup de grâce, Robert Bryce hits yet another home run by completely demolishing the argument for renewables in his new book Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.

Bryce is really pissing me off. I am an energy policy expert. His earlier book Gusher of Lies was an excellent rebuttal to the demagoguery on oil imports. But oil wasn't my thing so I gave him a pass and enthusiastically supported his book. But now he writes Power Hungry about the idiocy of many of the arguments supporting "green energy." This is my field and so I am truly in awe of his ability to so cogently skewer mindless advocates of green.

Bryce is addicted to numbers. He is ruthless in presenting numbers that make his points. His main weapon is the tyranny of big numbers. Many ideas sound good in the abstract--e.g., wind power, electric cars, cellulosic ethanol--but fail miserably when put into the context of US energy demographics.

I marvel that Bryce could deliver a nugget of new insight on literally every page. (I realize I am leaving myself open to abuse.) But he does. The list would be too long of all the fascinating nuggets that Bryce has so artfully strung together in an altogether gripping story of our modern day energy dilemma. A few will suffice to make the point:
* He presents the Four Imperatives of energy supply: power density, energy density, cost, and scale;
* He describes the technology advances that allow us to access huge natural gas shale resources;
* He discusses modular nuclear units (some as small as 25 megawatts);
* He absolutely skewers T. Boone Pickens and Amory Lovins;
* He devastates the argument that Denmark is an exemplar for relying on renewable energy; and
* He catalogues China's dominance in the "natural earth" resources essential for wind and solar.
It goes on and on.

Given all the attention given to literature that paints false pictures of green energy, I hope Bryce's book takes off like a rocket. The country very much needs this splash of cold water on the phony claims made for green energy.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Source of In-Depth Energy Information, September 21, 2010
Few science books are worth reading each and every page. Climatism, by Steve Gorham (reviewed here in March), is an exception. Power Hungry is not, but without doubt it contains more than enough great information to make it a terrific buy for anyone with a strong interest in the nation's energy supply.

I recommend reading only about 20 pages a day, as it is very heavy on the numbers, but it's well worth a fun 15-day investment.

Comprehensive Research
Robert Bryce spent four years researching every aspect of American energy from a fairly objective point of view. As one currently under contract to compile a four-volume encyclopedia of energy for John Wiley & Sons, I can tell you Bryce has done an outstanding job.

From time to time he throws in his personal politics--which too many authors are inclined to do--and he has too much respect for the global warming alarmists for my comfort, but these do not detract too much from the excellent analysis of various energy technologies.

A full 54 pages devoted to references illustrate the comprehensive research Bryce has done, as well as the quality of his sources. He is at his best destroying many of the myths regarding renewable energy, providing powerful mathematical proofs that anyone can understand.

He is also excellent on nuclear energy, and I will use one of his chapters as the basis for a future article on small-scale nuclear power generation in a future issue of Environment & Climate News.

Useful Information
To convince you of the value of the book, in the remainder of this review I will simply offer a surfer's list of some of the wonderful nuggets of information this 394-page text contains:

* Natural gas supplies are bountiful, with a known 280 years of resources available at our present rate of consumption.

* The next time someone says we are addicted to oil, substitute the word "prosperity" for oil.

* Nearly 3 billion people relying on biomass energy would love to trade places with us.

* Power density is the key to all energy sources. Oil, gas, coal, and nuclear have high power density, whereas wind, solar, and other renewable power sources have terribly low density.

* Humans cannot live near wind farms because of the low-level noise produced by their massive blades, which has palpable physical impacts.

* Each megawatt of deliverable wind energy requires 870 cubic meters of concrete and 460 tons of steel, whereas a gas-fired plant requires only about 3 percent as much.

* In order for the Chinese to build a planned 12,700 megawatts of new wind power, they will have to add 9,200 megawatts of new coal power as back-up.

* Denmark's perceived leadership in successful wind power is a mirage. Denmark has not reduced carbon emissions, energy costs have tripled there, and the nation must export most of its wind power at below-market rates.

* The American Bird Conservancy estimates between 75,000 and 275,000 birds are killed each year by wind turbines.

* The United States, without strict government mandates, is already leading the world in reducing its carbon intensity and its energy use without doing any of the things environmental activist groups dictate.

* Each year, hundreds of thousands of people die in Third World nations from indoor air pollution caused by the burning of biomass. Power from coal, natural gas, and oil would improve living conditions and reduce pollution-related deaths.

* Although environmental activist groups strongly hype cellulosic ethanol, it is no closer to technological and economic viability than it was when first described in 1921.

* Ethanol cannot significantly reduce the demand for oil, because many products other than automotive fuel are extracted from oil.

* Batteries have improved, but not by the orders of magnitude required to enable battery-powered cars to compete with other forms of transportation.

* 2,000 tons of uranium can release as much energy as 4.2 billion tons of oil.

* Measured in units of output, wind and solar power are getting 15 times as much federal subsidy money as nuclear power.

Power Density the Key
The primary theme of this book is the importance of power density. As Bryce thoroughly documents, coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power provide such power density while wind, solar, and biofuels do not.

You will not find a book on energy that makes this important point more strongly than this one.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ( is science director of The Heartland Institute.
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31 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Analysis of Energy Alternatives and The Folly of Current Policies, May 12, 2010
Steve Dietrich (Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Monica CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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For Bryce much of the book is like shooting fish in a bucket. The green world arguments ( or lack of arguments )are so poorly supported by real facts as to be a joke. However, the sad joke is that national policy is being made, not on facts, but on what feels good and benefits the lobbyists' clients.

The book starts in a coal mine where the energy equivalent of 66 thousand barrels of oil a day is produced. In short, but informative chapters it explores the foundation of our energy demand,the world energy demand, the economics and practicality of alternate sources and the foundation of a rational energy policy.

In 30 easy to read chapters Bryce takes one topic at a time and brings much needed facts and thought to the subject at hand. One of the examples which I appreciated, because the county where I live wants to build wind farms in the area, is the discussion of the double standard. Private companies have been fined millions for the inadvertent loss of protected species at their facilities while the wind farm in the Altamont Pass (east of Oakland) kills ten times as many protected animals every year, but without fines or bad press.

For some reason we want to believe that "green energy" is a brain flash of the Algorian Era. However, I still have pictures from our partner's efforts to generate solar power in the California desert from the 1970's. The PR photos are always on clear, still mornings. If they stayed for the afternoon dust devils and days of blowing dust they would better understand the challenges.

The ratios of solar vs conventional energy costs are about the same 30 years later. Power at the solar facility costs about 300%- 400% of what the utility charges its customers to deliver power to their door. We can hide part of the cost in taxpayer subsidies or mandatory utility subsidies of these producers, but the end result is the same. We are spending money to do something (generate power) in an economically inefficient manner. If you are having trouble with the impact of this concept find last month's electrical bill, imagine that you received three of them for the rest of your life.

Bryces's writing is reinforced with many charts covering a wide range of energy related topics. He has done his homework in gathering the data, analysis and writing up the results in a highly readable text. This should be required reading for those who make policy..

In the end Bryce delivers recommendations in his N2N formula. A shift to natural gas in the short run and a long range strategy involving extensive development of nuclear power. Decades ago the United States lead the world in development of reactors for power generation. Largely in response to well orchestrated attacks, we have junked this important industrial asset base and the hundreds of thousands of true green jobs associated with it. We are told that we should look to Europe for guidance. In Europe nuclear power plays a major role in producing clean power and minimizing oil imports. Even if you hate nuclear power you need to read this book.

As an interim strategy Bryce advocates a much larger commitment to natural gas. We have lots of it and it burns cleaner than coal, gasoline or diesel. Here's an area where he might have spent more time explaining the differences in the combustion products.

Concern about CO2 emissions is a relatively new phenomena. Bryce notes that US production of co2 has actually declined but that on a worldwide basis it (the production of CO2) is bound to rise as some of the worlds poorest populations begin to prosper.

It's hard to find fault with this book. It's easy to read, informative and thoughtful.

Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you want renewable energy integration, read this book, April 27, 2012
This review is from: Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (Paperback)
Anyone that is interested in the energy industry, and particularly renewable energy, should read this book. Bryce does a masterful job of breaking down the energy and power industries into digestible bites that anyone can understand.

It should be relatively obvious that most people on earth want renewable energy that doesn't sacrifice grid reliability or the pocket books of consumers. This book does a great job of showing the challenges that lie ahead for renewables, by broadly describing renewable technology in terms of "power density," a cornerstone of electricity generation from which economics, supply chain issues, and all else in this industry flows. If you drill down into power density, you will be begin to understand the economics of energy and what you can do to change them.

Bryce helps the reader grasp just how big a role fossil fuels play in the current electricity market. How can you reduce fossil fuel's role, if you don't know why they have such a big share of the market? They are the incumbent. The answer is you can't. If you are passionate about renewable energy integration, you must develop an understanding, and even an appreciation for fossil fuels.

Bryce's 4 point N2N plan:
1) Promote natural gas and nuclear power through targeted use of tax incentives
2) Encourage oil and gas production in the United States
3) Continue promoting energy efficiency
4) Continue working on renewables and energy storage technologies such as btteries and compressed-air energy storage.

The benefits of each point below:
1) natural gas emits 1/2 the CO2 of coal plants. It emits far less pollution that is harmful to humans. (I am iffy on nuclear power)
2) Domestic oil and gas production will improve the USA "Balance of Payments" account. This means we will send less of our hard earned money overseas, and stimulate our own economy.
3) Energy efficiency reduces power demand, and stretches current facilities and infrastructure (indirect power generation). It's the cheapest way to address our ever-increasing demand for electricity.
4) Renewable technology can't replace fossil fuels right now. So continue to focus on research to reduce cost. Bryce just co-wrote an article on this topic - search "The Left's Case for Reforming Energy Subsidies"
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79 of 112 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Misleading junk science from a fossil fuel industry lobbyist, February 22, 2012
This review is from: Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (Paperback)
Power Hungry? Or just on a low-fact diet?

Over the weekend I had the misfortune of reading Power Hungry by Robert Bryce. Mr. Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank that receives a significant amount of funding from the oil and gas industry, including Exxon-Mobil and the Koch brothers. Based on the sheer number of incorrect and misleading claims the book makes about wind energy, I had to check the inside cover to make sure that I hadn't accidentally picked up Mr. Bryce's previous book, Gusher of Lies, as that was a far more apt title for what I was reading.

Here are the most salient errors and misleading claims in Mr. Bryce's book:
1. Land use - Mr. Bryce begins with a false claim that wind and solar energy require more land than other sources of energy production. His claim is based on overstating the actual land use of wind energy by a factor of 20 to 50 by failing to account for the fact that only 2-5% of the land area of a typical wind plant is actually taken up by wind turbines and other equipment, while the remaining 95-98% can continue being used for farming, ranching, or whatever its prior use was. A 2008 report by the U.S. Department of Energy [...] concluded that obtaining 20% of the nation's electricity from wind energy would use less land than is currently occupied by the city of Anchorage, Alaska.

Mr. Bryce accompanies this error, and forfeits any claim to objectivity, by drastically understating the land use impacts of other sources of production, ignoring the massive area that must be mined to produce a useable quantity of coal or uranium and the significant amount of land devoted to natural gas pipelines. Moreover, the harmful, and in many cases, irreversible impact on the land caused by the extraction, transportation, and consumption of these other fuels is far greater than the comparatively benign impact of installing wind turbines. Furthermore, because fossil and nuclear fuels are consumed when they are used while wind energy's fuel is never depleted, fossil and nuclear energy require that new land be continually mined in perpetuity. The DOE report mentioned above noted that 1,000,000 acres of new land are disturbed each and every year in the U.S. by coal mining, several times greater than the amount of land that would be disturbed once and only once by obtaining 20% of America's electricity from wind energy.

In a sidebar in Chapter 11, Mr. Bryce attacks wind energy for its potential impact on birds. In this passage he cites misleading worst-case statistics and glosses over important facts, like the fact that buildings, house cats, and communication towers would still kill thousands of times more birds per year than wind turbines, even if the U.S. increased wind energy output 10-fold. Mr. Bryce also ignores the far-reaching impacts of conventional electric generating technologies on wildlife, including the impacts of climate change, fuel mining, and power plant water use.

2. Wind turbine syndrome - Perhaps the most disappointing of Mr. Bryce's attacks on wind energy is when he jumps on the bandwagon of the cult that believes in the existence of so-called Wind Turbine Syndrome. Spurred by a few anecdotal cases of a person who lives within a few miles of a wind plant developing cancer or another ailment, Wind Turbine Syndrome proponents conclude that the wind turbines must have caused that illness. Despite the lack of any scientific basis for these claims or evidence that the rates of these illnesses are higher near wind plants, Mr. Bryce wholeheartedly embraces the concept. His support for this claim? A single book, self-published last year by the well-known anti-wind activist Nina Pierpont. In contrast, state-appointed commissions of independent medical experts in Oregon and Massachusetts have looked at the facts and concluded that there is no plausible link between wind turbines and any illness.

3. Emissions - Next, Mr. Bryce takes on the laws of physics, claiming that wind energy does not significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In reality, every amount of electricity produced by a wind or solar power plant must displace an equal amount of electricity produced by another power plant, a fact that is supported by reams of government studies and data showing that as wind energy production goes up, fossil fuel use and carbon emissions go down.

Mr. Bryce tries to evade this overwhelming body of statistics by selectively citing a single misleading example: that Denmark's CO2 emissions in 2007 were only slightly lower than their emissions in 1990, even though Denmark's use of wind power has grown substantially since 1999. What Mr. Bryce doesn't tell you is that Denmark's CO2 emissions were abnormally low in 1990 because hydroelectric power output was unusually high that year. In fact, a chart he buries on page 111 of his own book - and doesn't mention at all in the text - shows that Denmark's electric sector CO2 emissions fell from 44 million tons in 1991 to 23 million tons in 2007, a reduction of nearly 50%,
while electricity consumption increased by over 20% during that period.

In the U.S., Department of Energy data for the states of Colorado and Texas (two states with high wind penetrations and relatively isolated power grids) show that emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides have decreased in lockstep as wind energy has been added to the power grid. Every independent grid operator analysis that has looked at the issue has found a similar result. In fact, the decrease in emissions is often greater than proportional to the increase in wind energy use.

4. Capacity factor versus capacity value - Chapter 9 of the book is based around Mr. Bryce misleadingly confusing two entirely different concepts: capacity factor and capacity value. Capacity factor is the amount of energy a power plant produces over the course of a year relative to its maximum theoretical production. Capacity value is the ability of a power plant to meet peak or near peak electricity demand. Mr. Bryce takes an abnormally low estimate of wind's capacity value, 8.7% of nameplate generating capacity, and presents this as wind's capacity factor. In fact, the best and most recent estimates of wind's capacity value place it in the 20-30% range when wind resources are aggregated over a broad geographic region, so Bryce's capacity value figure is misleading on its own.

Mr. Bryce then makes this statistic even more misleading by confusing capacity factor with capacity value. Claiming that wind has almost no capacity value, Bryce asserts that this means that wind doesn't reduce emissions. In fact, capacity value has nothing to do with emissions reductions - energy output, which is measured by capacity factor, is the only thing that matters in determining the emissions reductions of wind energy. In contrast, capacity value has little "value" today, since electricity demand has been on the decline since 2008, and low-cost resources like demand response and new natural gas plants already ensure that we have plenty of generating capacity to meet periods of peak demand.

What is wind's real capacity factor? A typical wind turbine produces some power about 75-80% of the time, and has a capacity factor of around 35%. While 35% may sound low to someone not familiar with power system operations, this is actually significantly higher than the capacity factor of natural gas power plants (22% on average), and comparable to the average capacity factor of hydroelectric plants (37%), according to DOE figures.

5. Energy subsidies - Mr. Bryce criticizes the small amount of tax credits that are used to incentive renewable energy production, while ignoring the hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies that have been and are still being given to fossil and nuclear power. Several independent groups like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have looked at the issue and concluded that the subsidies that have been given and are still being given to conventional generation far outweigh those for renewables. Moreover, renewable energy resources provide a number of benefits to our economy and our environment, in contrast to the detrimental impacts of fossil generation.

6. Wind's cost - Mr. Bryce takes very optimistic assumptions for the future cost of nuclear and "clean coal" power plants and compares them against very high estimates for the cost of wind plants in an attempt to claim that wind energy is more expensive than the alternatives. In fact, a number of studies, including several DOE analyses, have shown that zero-fuel cost wind energy significantly reduces consumers' electric bills and protects them from fuel price volatility, and that passing a national Renewable Electricity Standard would save consumers money. DOE's 20% wind report found that 20% wind would save consumers $150 billion by reducing the price of natural gas, which would have far-reaching benefits for the U.S. economy, since natural gas is used for everything from home heating to fertilizer production and a variety of industrial processes.

7. Rare earth metals - Mr. Bryce trots out the tired old myth that the U.S. wind industry is vulnerable because China produces the majority of the rare earth metals that can be used in wind turbine generators. In doing so, he conveniently ignores several important facts: only a few percent of the wind turbines installed in the U.S. use rare earth metals because the vast majority of wind turbine designs do not require their use; the U.S. does have significant reserves of rare earth metals; and there are a number of other materials that can be substituted for rare earth metals in the type of wind turbines that do use them, if either cost or security of supply become a concern.

8. Job creation - Finally, Mr. Bryce also attempts to take on the widely understood fact that renewable energy is a powerful job creation tool, ignoring the fact that the U.S. wind industry has already created around 75,000 jobs, and around 450,000 more will be created if we move to a future of obtaining 20 percent of electricity from renewable energy. This doesn't even account for many of the economic benefits that accrue to the local communities where wind development is occurring, such as increased tax revenue and landowner lease payments. By creating strong, stable policies to encourage renewable energy production, America can achieve technological leadership in building the clean energy technologies of the 21st Century, which will pay dividends to our economy for decades to come.

I decided to read Mr. Bryce's book, despite misgivings based on a number of previous ill-founded opinion articles by Mr. Bryce attacking wind energy, because it continues to receive a moderate amount of press attention. Readers be warned -- Power Hungry is a poorly researched ideological screed, rather than a thoughtful inquiry into energy policy, and should not be taken seriously as a reference.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Extensive cherry picking leaves me underwhelmed, July 29, 2012
This review is from: Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (Paperback)
In my opinion, our access to energy will continue to be one of the most important challenges our society faces for the indefinite future. Going into this book, my opinion was that nuclear energy is the only energy source which will be able to provide ever increasing amounts of energy with minimal disruption to our lives. I was skeptical about alternative green energies, such as solar and biofuel and was hoping this book would help me flesh out my skepticism or give me the tools to further investigate the major problems, especially with solar. I assumed that the massive amounts of material needed to make and maintain solar would be a challenge, as would space. However, this book was no help.

This book is essentially divided into three sections:
Section 1 - What is power and what are hydrocarbons
Section 2 - Wind has major problems.
Section 3 - Methane is the best fuel ever.

Major issues:
The thesis of this book is that we should use methane for the time being, while we develop nuclear to the point where is can provide most of our electricity.
That is a reasonable thesis which I don't have major issues with. I do have issues with the fact that he uses cherry picked data to support this thesis instead of providing an honest argument. For instance, he uses concepts such as total power generated, percent power generated and percent growth of power generated in various charts, but typically only provides one of these statistics. However, these are inter-related and need to be taken in the context of the other statistics. He might show that percent increase of one type of energy is huge, but without reference to the absolute numbers it's hard to know if that energy type just started out extremely low, so the percent increase was necessarily large. He also tends to show data about the current market share and then make an argument about what a small percent of the total market some specific energy source makes up, then uses that to argue against the energy source. That strikes me as circular logic.

He makes a strong case against wind, which essentially boils down to the fact that wind power needs to be backed up with an equal amount of methane power plants, so the costs are larger than you would believe just by looking at the numbers. Fair enough. He doesn't argue against solar though, so it's not clear to me why solar is doomed. He also claims that we should be worried about China's monopoly on rare earths. He doesn't mention that America also has a large supply of rare earths, but we are just not willing to partake in the environmentally destructive practice of mining and refining them at current prices.

He then spends a lot of time talking about how great methane (natural gas) is. Methane has some good attributes. First and foremost, America has a lot of methane. Also, it produces very little pollution and somewhat less CO2 than other hydrocarbons. However, here again, his charry picking leaves a bad taste in my mouth. When talking about ethanol he goes on an on about how the energy density of ethanol is too low compared to gasoline. However, in the methane section he talks up how we could make methane powered cars. He talks up liquid methane. BUT LIQUID METHANE AND ETHANOL HAVE THE SAME ENERGY DENSITY! Furthermore, liquid methane has serious problems such as the extremely low temperatures required to store it (similar to the temperatures required for superconducters) and the fact that it is highly explosive when it contacts liquid water. Ethanol, with the same energy density, is liquid at room temperatures and safe to handle.

I have the opinion that if I see dishonest reporting in the areas that I know most about, I should expect a similar level of dishonesty in the areas I know least about. For that reason, I can't feel that I trust this book to be anything most than a PR campaign by the oil and natural gas industry.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reality Sets In, March 12, 2013
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This book should be read by everyone. We are completely ignorant of the numbers around how electricity is actually produced. This book opens up your mind to the realities of how hard it is to simply change our sources of energy. I found this book to be incredibly insightful. I would recommend it to everyone. I have recommended it to others and they say that there are too many numbers in the book. I think that is what makes it credible.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Myth Busting, February 5, 2013
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This review is from: Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (Paperback)
"Green energy," "climate change," "environment," "sustainability" are some of the very prominent buzzwords that that pup up with some frequency in the media these days. The planet is in grave peril, and unless we do something drastic about it we are all going to die. Or something to that effect. And the drastic measure almost always means abandoning fossil fuels, and replacing them with "sustainable" sources of energy, such as biomass, wind, solar, etc. Putting aside the validity of the danger that the environmental pollution may be causing, the notion that there are easy fixes in the form of alternative energy sources laying around are just not valid. After decades of subsidies, media coverage and promotion, the simple fact remains that these alternative sources of energy are far inferior to whatever we are using right now and no amount of additional funding will change that. And this has nothing to do with our efforts - this is all based on simple laws of physics. The mainstream sources of energy - primarily fossil fuels - are by far the most readily available, portable, and concentrated sources of energy that we have.

"Power Hungry" is a great source of information on some of the basic principles that underlie any energy considerations. Robert Bryce provides considerable background on many of the more popular "alternative" energy solutions - wind, solar, ethanol - and why they are all based on hype that is well beyond anything that is reasonable to expect, either now or with any future technology. I was particularly shocked to find out how much additional "dirty" energy infrastructure needs to be built for the purpose of backing up some of the renewable power sources - wind and solar in particular. These sources of power are very inconsistent and unsuitable for providing sustained energy needs of any modern society. These considerations are, unfortunately, almost never discussed in the media.

This is a very important book that goes well beyond the hype and the usual sanctimonies about the need for "clean" energy. Regardless of where you stand on the whole issue of climate change and the need to combat it, this book could provide you with some clear understanding of very real and very physical limits of what "clean" energy can provide. It's an important book that can add a lot of value to our public policy debates.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sound science, misguided conclusions, May 8, 2014
This review is from: Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (Paperback)
What this book makes clear, and in no uncertain terms, is that there is no green alternative to the current rate of consumption of fossil fuels. And the argument appears sound. There must be at least as many numbers in this book as there are letters, and they are staggering. There simply is no way to make up the coming shortfall through wind, solar and geothermal energy. The argument is laid out in impressive detail and in a way that is both illuminating and pleasantly educational. There is also a host of reference materials and visual aides to help you get your head around it all.

The solution, and again it’s hard to disagree in principle, is what the author coins N2N (Natural Gas to Nuclear). In a nutshell, this argues that as oil becomes more scarce, natural gas will have to bridge the gap until nuclear energy can replace it.
There is just one problem: the arguments and the solutions alike ignore entirely the option of reducing energy consumption, which seems like a major oversight. The author simply assumes that we will go on consuming power at the current rate because we “enjoy” the lifestyle it makes possible, and so all efforts must be made to accommodate it. It’s hard to delineate if this is merely an expression of his own apathy at the political prospects of achieving such a reduction, or just a genuine indifference to it. In many ways this takes the book on a slightly skewed path as it addresses the future in store. It also ignores the bigger economic picture, such as the simultaneous depletion of everything else that goes into sustaining current norms in consumption. Despite this, the book remains surprisingly optimistic about the prospects for staving off the looming energy crisis, a fact that seems disingenuous at best when everything else is taken into account.

My opinion of this book is thus very divided. As an exposé of current misguided thinking on the subject of energy, I cannot fault it. Nor do I have anything bad to say about its value as an educational tool for anyone not familiar with the science, facts and figures. As a solution, however, I feel it is both naive and cynical in its assumptions and its failure to factor in certain obvious considerations. Nuclear power may well turn out to be the provider of last resort, but that this will mean business as usual is a leap of faith with no sound justification.
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