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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2013
This book is startlingly and refreshingly different from most discourse on any policy issue in America today. Michael Levi has no obvious agenda: he seems genuinely to want to explore the roles of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources in our country (and on the planet) and to suggest how public policy could be devised for them, if it should be at all. He presents the positions of the pro-fossil-fuel advocates and of the proponents of renewable energy sources, and he presents his own critiques of their positions. His background in math (he has a doctorate in nuclear physics) enables him to see the weaknesses in some of the arguments on both sides. He has done an immense amount of research in the archives and "on the ground." He is quite knowledgeable about the processes both of getting legislation passed and of negotiating international agreements, such as on limiting carbon emissions. Moreover, his knowledge of macroeconomics allows him to point out some profoundly counter-intuitive facts about the impact of domestic oil production on "energy independence" and on the price of petroleum.

He clearly is convinced that fossil fuels are creating a future with perilous consequences for the next generation, but he has to conclude that Americans need to abandon their advocacy of "only fossil fuels" or "only renewable energy" for the foreseeable future and realize that both have to be utilized for the next several decades: he wants to replace coal with gas immediately, but gas and oil simply cannot be replaced overnight. He has the numbers and the facts to make a good case, and if you fall into the "only this" category for either source of energy, as I was for clean energy, you owe it to yourself to read his book. The book is not perfect: the "whopper" of a mistake that one reviewer points out regarding the definition of a kilowatt is inexplicable coming from a physicist, and there are a few annoying typos and grammatical mistakes, but these are minor distractions for what is otherwise an eye-opening explication of one of today's most pressing issues.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2013
This is a well reasoned and scholarly analysis of the world's energy problems and politics written in a breezy layperson's style without a lot technical details. Most books of this subject that do not go into technical and economic detail, dumb down the issues but Levi is one of those rare authors who, although clearly in command of his material, can present all of the nuances of the issues without turning off people who don't know the difference between a BTU and an electron. He has clear and concise facts at hand to destroy many of the partisan arguments. As an example, I assumed that the oil sands in Canada were a huge immediate resource, but Levi points out that it will take decades to use them at our current rates of production.

Shale gas, an energy source that is already under intense development, but only subject to local resistance, will produce ten times as much CO2 when completely utilized and can supply the US with 500 years of energy, but at the current, already controversial rate of production, will take 3000 (yes that is THREE thousand) years to utilize.

Read this book carefully and you will understand why there are no simple answers, but we must find answers or we are doomed.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2013
The North American energy landscape is changing rapidly. Everyday, we read another story about US energy independence--and another story about how it is the hottest year on record. OIl and gas production is surging even as climate impacts are felt with increasing frequency. I have been looking for a readable book that helps make sense of it all--that helps separate the rhetoric from the reality and explains how we can build an energy future that both increases our energy security while addressing climate change. Michael Levi nails it. Full of interesting stories and anecdotes, but also serious analysis and numbers, he explains how the world of energy is changing, what it will mean for all of us, and what our policymakers need to do to make sure we address today's challenges and opportunities.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2013
We live in interesting times. We, the U.S. were at the mercy of the Arabs in the Middle East, buying their oil, and them using the proceeds to fund terrorism against the U.S. It was also said the the U.S. has no way of becoming independent of foreign oil, as long as we use this commodity. Then, one day, oil was drilled in North Dakota by new means, out of shale, and it was found that the Bakken oil field was discovered, providing literally millions of barrels of oil a day, followed by booms in other fields all over the U.S., and OPEC began to feel the shock. Then then it is found that we have literally billions of cubic feet of natural gas waiting to be drilled At the same time, another energy revolution was taking place in the form of solar and wind power, and electric cars, and hybrids, were being put on the market. This adds up to the new energy surge in the U.S., putting us on the road to energy independence, making the U.S. an energy exporter, and shaking OPEC in their boots. Ironically, there is also the threat of climate change, heating up the world, melting ice caps, and causing all sorts of freak weather.
All this is true, and as the U.S. increases its supply of domestic oil and natural gas, in a time of economic change, a lot of rumors, theories, hopes, and fears abound.
Michael Levi has thoroughly researched the facts behind the duel energy movement (being a surge in both fossil fuels and renewable energy), and many of the "facts" put out by the media has been exaggerated and embellished. I myself have been on wind farms, know people who have solar panels where they live, and even visited the infamous Oil (Tar) Sands at Ft. McMurray, Alberta, in Canada, the beginning the of XL pipeline.
First, renewable energy is badly needed, and we have improved the technology quite a bit, but the percentage of it powering all the U.S. is still quite small, and still has a long way to go. Solar and wind technology is rising, but is still not dependable, and there is no electric storage system (i.e. giant batteries) when there is no wind, or when the sun doesn't shine, either at night or on cloudy days. Coal plants are being fazed out and replaced by natural gas. Electric cars are still expensive, and they have to decrease in price for them to be popular, but they are getting there. I own stock in Tesla, the primary electric car company brought to you by Elon Musk, who also brought you PayPal and SpaceX. My stock increased by a factor of eight, which tells you something of the technology. It's improving. Do not write off renewables. They are on their way up nonetheless, and this is all explained.
Nuclear and fossil fuels, in spite of the danger, oil spills, and nuclear meltdowns, are not going away anytime soon, regardless of what the environmentalists may say. Even with new energy technologies, oil will be around for some time to come, and it must be remembered that oil is also used to make plastics, medicines, computer chips, and many other items. Oil and natural gas is booming in places like North Dakota, Texas, California, even Pennsylvania and Ohio, and there will be jobs in this field. New technology such as fracking, though unpopular, is happening.
The greenhouse gas emitted from oil and natural gas drilled in the U.S. and Canada, even with the Oil Sands, has been grossly exaggerated. The Tar Sands, is mined, would emit 60 parts per million, but would take 3000 years to extract all its oil at the present rate of mining. They do reclaim the land after its mined, I've seen the land after it was replanted, and it was impressive.
The stock market, though not mentioned, is getting in on all this. There have been sellers trying to impress people with get rich quick schemes with buying stock, but don't overestimate them. As an example, carbon dioxide technology, injecting CO2 in the wells to bring up hard to reach oil is being hyped, but the book explains that the process is more complicated than it seems, requiring a complex, and expensive, piping system to accomplish this feat, so don't go overboard investing in this feat just yet.
Don't count out climate change, for it is a serious problem, with rising temperatures, increasing insect populations killing off forests, melting permafrost and releasing methane, heating the Earth even more, all in an endless loop. The threat is real, and does have to be dealt with. One solution is to replant forests and jungles. This is one of many, and CO2 technology for wells is still interesting.
Changes are happening, but one cannot change just by stopping things. The truth of the matter is, we all want clean, inexhaustible energy, and we all want to maintain our quality of life, in spite of what is happening. The author points out, and this could be the most important, if we are to continue in our quest for energy, "could this lead to big gains for the economy, security, or the environment? And can it be done without doing substantial damage on any of these fronts?" The cold, hard fact is, we are not going to eliminate any energy source, no matter how dangerous it may be, without replacing it with something that is just as good or better. In other words, producing lots of energy for all. We also must be frugal with our oil and natural gas, by continue to use energy saving devices and improve hybrid, electric, and natural gas driven cars and trucks. In other words, keep conserving the new found oil and gas and don't waste it.
This book explains the reality of energy, both positive and negative, but does emphasize on the positive. Levi explains oil, natural gas, nuclear, and mentions the recent disasters concerning them, along with solar and wind. The industries, along with the politics and economics are explained and weaved into all these major sources, and, of course, the present situation in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, etc.), and why we should wean ourselves from these sources (the answer here is obvious).
The details are explained, the reality is faced, and the reader can come up with the conclusions on what should be done.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2013
As someone with little interest in domestic energy politics, I found this book extremely helpful, educational, and well-written. It's not every day a PhD energy wonk at a think tank can write in engaging prose like a journalist and build a colorful narrative around the characters who are cashing out on America's next energy boom. He takes readers on a tour of the plains of North Dakota, up to the Arctic Circle near Alaska, to see how energy pipelines (e.g. Keystone, etc.), shale gas, and fracking are literally reshaping our landscape and remaking energy politics. But Levi also provides his own thoughtful analysis throughout the book. I like that he is not a shrill spokesperson for either side in the energy debate, but actually is someone who engages the issue with some healthy skepticism, while also doing a good job of getting the reader to understand the science, not just the politics, behind the energy debate, something lacking in the popular media. This book will be an excellent and enjoyable read both for lay readers and energy experts alike.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2014
A well done attempt to put oil on troubled waters, if I can be forgiven for using this old saying. He addresses two energy communities, renewables, and fossil fuel that exist in America today. He talks to people on each side and I believe fairly reflects their position and the technology and other issues with each side, renewables and fossil fuel.

He does not address every form of renewal or fossil fuel energy, but just the main points. Electricity generation today is very dependent upon coal which is cheap, and is used for base load as it is so cheap in large electricity generation plants. It has its drawbacks in being dirty, and its emissions, including all of the soot products and gas (CO2) which is of concern to the global warming part of the environmental community. Wind and solar panel are cleaner, but are not energy dense and have other issues besides the land that that take to replace one coal powered electrical power plant. They are not really suitable for electrical system base load today, as we lack large scale energy storage facilities to even out the electrical production of wind mills and solar panels so that they could meet the base load requirement for electricity in place of a coal fired or nuclear powered electrical generation plant.

He addresses the need for hydrocarbon fuel for transportation today and in the future.

He believes that there is room for both renewables and fossil fuels today and we need both today as we transition to a future United States.

I should state that I like living in an advanced industrial society, and believe that most of the advanced world likes it as well. I would like for everyone in the world to have the opportunity to live in an advanced industrial society. Plentiful, and cheap energy make possible the advanced industrial society. Thus, unless we want to regress as a society, we need to be concerned about the sources of cheap power for now and the future.

His bottom line is that there is no utopia for the USA, and we are going to need to pursue all avenues to meet our energy needs. Well done book. If I could add topics to be included I wish that he would have addressed safety of the different power generation systems as we unfortunately lose lives with all systems, coal mine accidents, wind installation and maintenance accidents etc. There is no such thing as a perfectly safe system to generate electrical power.

Nuclear, including the lives lost at Chernoble has a low personnel loss rate in relation to the electricity generated. A new generation of nuclear power plants has been designed and is being built, The design of these new plants is such that the reactor core cannot overheat and melt if cooling is lost. Thus no incidents like Three Mile Island or the Japanese Tsunami can occur with the new design plants. will reduce the highly radioactive nuclear waste with the long life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2013
With reason and facts, not hyperbole, Michael Levi gently disproves several widely held beliefs: that achieving oil self-sufficiency will protect the U.S. against price spikes or dramatically improve economic growth, that building the Keystone XL pipeline means "game over" for climate change, that using shale gas to displace coal in the power sector does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that relying on natural gas for the very long term is a viable solution to the energy-climate problem. Numerous interviews with real people working on or affected by energy development put a human face on the policy choices confronting us.

If you only read one book on the current energy situation, read this.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2013
The future of energy is no easy conversation, and yet it's integral to the lives of nearly every person living today. Where our energy sources are going to come from and how much it's going to cost are discussions that are just as rife with misinformation as information.

Michael Levi's book makes a decent case for an optimistic future, but this is not light reading if you're a layman like me when it comes to the politics of energy. I recommend The Power Surge for those already somewhat versed in the language of energy and energy policy. The content here is fairly dense.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2013
This book offers a sensible assessment of our country's energy needs and opportunities. And sensible isn't easy to come by in our polarized political environment. The solutions presented here are ones I hope our leaders will embrace. Must reading for those who want to look at all sides of our energy dilemma and climate change.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2013
This author presents both sides of most of the climate change/green energy controversies, which is unusual in today's media. I got a lot of information so I can make my own informed choices. A must read for proponents and opponents of global climate change arguments.
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