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The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, The Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy

3.3 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465031160
ISBN-10: 0465031161
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Contrary to "Lethargist" Chicken Littles who champion gas taxes and mileage standards, this free–market–oriented, techno-optimist manifesto insists that "[h]umanity is destined to find and consume more energy, and still more, forever." Huber, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute (Hard Green; Galileo's Revenge; etc.), and venture capitalist and former Reagan administration staffer Mills contend that, in conjunction with our ever-increasing scientific know-how, consuming energy yields good things, including the ability to find and harness more energy. The authors develop intriguing contrarian challenges to the conventional wisdom (improved energy efficiency, they argue cogently, boosts energy demand instead of curbing it) and their discussions of new technologies—electric drive trains, awesome lasers, "dexterous robots"—that may profoundly reshape energy usage is illuminating. But their treatment of energy-consumption pitfalls like global warming is cursory and unconvincing, and they devote too little space to explaining exactly where new energy supplies will come from, and too much to assurances that "[f]uels recede, demand grows... but logic ascends, and with the rise of logic we attain the impossible—infinite energy, perpetual motion and the triumph of power." Long on Nietzschean bombast but short on some crucial specifics, theirs is an intriguing but incomplete vision of energy policy and prospects.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The authors point out that America consumes 25 percent of the world's natural gas, 23 percent of its hard coal, 25 percent of its crude petroleum, 43 percent of its motor gasoline, and 26 percent of its electricity. They reveal that our main use of energy isn't lighting, locomotion, or cooling; what we use energy for, mainly, is to extract, refine, process, and purify energy itself. Huber and Mills list what they call the seven energy heresies: the cost of energy as we use it has less and less to do with the cost of fuel; "waste" is virtuous; the more efficient our technology, the more energy we consume; the competitive advantage in manufacturing is now swinging decisively back toward the U.S.; human demand for energy is insatiable; the raw fuels are not running out; and America's relentless pursuit of high-grade energy does not add chaos to the global environment but rather restores its order. Readers with prior knowledge of this complicated subject will appreciate their conclusions the most. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465031161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465031160
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,341,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This is very close to being a science book, but the topic keeps it from being strictly a science book. The topic is necessarily conjecture about how we will meet future energy needs. The authors, however, are honest about what is conjecture on their part and what is science, and point to the recent development of inexpensive LED lighting as an example of how long-term plans to save energy (by investing in flourescent lighting) end up being foiled by new technological developments. Their primary suggestion, with regard to energy policy over the next few years, is to see what new technology develops and adapt to it, rather than take our current technological knowledge and assume that it will apply 30 years from now. This is in stark contrast to similar books that attempt to use current scientific and technological knowledge to predict doom for the world with remarkable confidence.

The most engaging and scientific part of the book is the discussion of efficiency and energy and entropy. Most of the author's optimistic conclusions arise from their observations made here. Efficiency often ends up being misused, by their reasoning, to make two incorrect conclusions about energy policy. One such incorrect conclusion is that the US economy makes very, very inefficient use of its energy. To the contrary, such a conclusion assumes that somehow energy in coal form is equivalent to energy in electrical form is equivalent to energy running a laptop PC. The authors argue, convincingly, that energy in coal form is mostly useless, and part of it gets spent reversing entropy enough to generate electricity, and again in the PC, part of it is spent keeping the processor cool enough to actually work.
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Format: Paperback
Peter Huber and Mark P. Mills--two master iconoclasts have teamed up to write a fascinating and indeed visionary book on the capture and release of energy in our industrialized society.

The book is all the more entertaining for the fact that it shatters many energy myths in an unapologetic and politically incorrect fashion. This straight-shooting return to truthfulness is a welcome breath of fresh air guaranteed to irritate the automatons of the environmental-left. To be specific, the authors dispel six myths about energy:

1) why the demand for energy will never decrease
2) why "energy waste" (actually refinement to more intensive forms) is beneficial--a good thing
3) why more efficient cars lead to a higher demand for energy
4) why the energy supply is essentially infinite
5) why gasoline prices are less important now than in the past
6) and why hybrid engines will likely lead to increased use of coal and nuclear fuels

On each point the authors make their case using a rigorous, original analysis. Throughout the book, the authors quantify their claims with hard numbers and graphical information, something that is sorely lacking in most articles and texts on this topic.

The authors dispel many other myths with hard facts and inescapable logic. For example, we learn that a century and a half ago, a pioneering American family required 40 acres and a mule in order to survive. This acreage was needed in order to generate enough energy in the form of crops and pasture to fuel and obtain useful work from the livestock. Today, we need far less land per person because we derive our energy from beneath the soil in the form of energy-intensive petroleum products.
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Format: Hardcover
The Bottomless Well offers counterintuitive insights into energy consumption and production. For instance, does it make sense that more fuel efficient cars result in using more fuel? Yes it does and we can follow the logic easily.

People who spend $100 a month on gasoline to do the groceries and to go on weekend trips, might choose to commute by car if their car's fuel efficiency is doubled. They'll wind up spending $125 or $150 dollars a month using the car three times as much. When something becomes cheaper to use, people don't pocket the savings, they use it more. Data going back centuries backs up this finding.

What about production? The authors argue that our whole reasoning about energy production is wrong. First they remind us that energy cannot be produced, that it cannot be created out of nothing; that's basic physics. By "energy production" what we really mean is a change of state: sunlight causes chemical reactions that produce carbon compounds that eventually become biomass, the biomass is transformed through heat and pressure into fossil fuels. Energy is progressively absorbed and locked in until the fossil fuels are extracted and burned millions of years later.

Second, they point out that most of our energy consumption is used in energy production. For instance when burning coal, we have to mine the coal and ship it to the plant. We have to spend 30% or so of the plant's production to scrub the CO2 out of the plant's emissions. Much of the electricity produced is lost in resistance while travelling on the power grid between the plant and your refrigerator.

A lot of energy is spent shaping and delivering energy when and where we need it.
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