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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis,Who Turned Out the Lights? involves one major theme. We need to find ways to balance the earth's natural resources with the growing demand for energy. Since our fragile atmosphere, too, is a natural resource, our balancing act must not destroy it.
Any educated person by now must believe science's forewarning that global warming can eventually destroy life on our planet. Yet all of us are aware of the bothersome inconveniences caused by shortages. Remember rationed gasoline? Remember long lines of cars waiting for high priced fuel at gas stations? So our seesaw act between saving earth's atmosphere and/or demanding more fuel to use carelessly is a two edged sword.
If 70% of all energy in the United Stated is used for either transportation or electricity, from whence doth it come? Much of it comes from fossil fuels. Millions of years ago, vast numbers of plants and animals around the earth died when our planet's crust covered them with increasingly thick layers of dirt and rock-like substances. The downward pressure and heat dramatically altered this buried goo both physically and chemically. The result: fossil fuels--petroleum, coal, natural gas.
Bringing these resources to the earth's surface to provide the world's energy demands can continue--but only until they're gone. And there's the rub. Scientists are warning consumers that the deeply hidden pockets of these fuels are disappearing. They are irreplaceable because the pressurized fossilization process has stopped. Are we then doomed?
Who Turned Out the Lights? would say no. There are other ways of producing energy. All of us are aware of hydro-electric power from dammed up water in our rivers. The United States has an abundance of rivers compared to Saudi Arabia and other arid countries. But damming the rivers causes other environmental shocks. It disturbs aquatic life both in the river and all along the river's shores.
Nuclear power would seem to give mankind the biggest return on the amount of fuel spent. the economies of some countries, France for example, depend on it. About 19% of U.S. energy comes from nuclear power, but it can be dangerous. The Chernobyl explosion in Russia and resultant radioactive contamination required the displacement of 336,000 people from their homes in large areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.
Although that accident happened in 1986, today the contaminated areas are now thought to be safely inhabitable (In Focus: Chernobyl). In addition, uranium is not renewable, and its radioactive waste is not disposable--at least not easily. In the United States, much of it has been buried deep within Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Here it will sit for 10,000 or even 1,000,000 years, depending on its potency.
Popular magazines show homes covered with solar cells. Solar energy is in its infancy. It takes vast areas of solar panes to produce useable amounts of electricity. Who Turned Out the Lights claims that by 2015, this renewable source of energy will be "economically competitive." At present, it supplies 1% of electrical energy.
On drives east through Pennsylvania and south through West Virginia, I've seen lines and lines of wind turbines. They, too, make use of renewable wind power and there are plenty of places where air currents are relatively constant particularly where large bodies of water and land meet. To make these wind turbine giants feasible, our nation needs a myriad more and a grid network to get the energy they produce off high mountains and down into cities and towns. We also need ways of storing such energy for later use at peak times.
What would be exciting is the conversion of plants into fuels or even garbage which we have plenty of. Who Turned Out the Lights claims that ethanol can be converted to fuel, and even if it is simply burned, since plants give off oxygen when growing, it is a wash between the amount of oxygen they give off growing and the carbon dioxide they release when burned.
Although the authors of Who Turned Out the Lights? state that geothermal processes provide less than 1% of our earth's energy, this is where I would direct research. Geothermal heat can provide:
-- 1) superheated steam from deep inside the earth that comes in contact with pockets of magma relatively near the thin surface crust
-- 2) superheated water that is pumped down to come into contact with molten magma itself.
In the 1950s, project Moho attempted to drill very deep through the earth's crust to reach its upper mantle. It has since then been taken over by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program ([...]). Although scientists differ in their opinions about why the earth's interior remains so hot, it appears it will remain that way for billions of years.
What the USA immediately needs is less talk and more action on the ways and means of getting and using the energy sources we now have. This is not a time for political posturing on who will get what amounts of money to solve the global-warming-energy-crunch situation. Nor is it enough to stash away barrels of surplus oil, or horde natural gas.
Our country's present economic down turn can be solved overnight by investing in research and the facilities that will produce clean coal; useable fuel from plants; electricity from ocean currents and tides; wind turbines; solar power; and in particular, geothermal powerplants.
I would hope that government officials, politicians, and everyone that should be involved in the energy crisis--which means you and me--would read Who Turned Out the Lights?. This book is factual but not boring. Its suggestions for energy consumption are meaningful. Its fifteen chapters deliver a potent message: We need to act now. The same type of creative ingenuity that brought home the badly crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft in a matter of days can surely design and implement an energy program before planet earth is too crippled to call home.
Review written by Regis Schilken
Tears of Deceit
Other interesting material:
The Solar Electricity Handbook 2009: A Simple, Practical Guide to Using Electric Solar Panels and Designing and Installing Photovoltaic Solar PV Systems
Geothermal Power Plants, Second Edition: Principles, Applications, Case Studies and Environmental Impact
Geothermal Power Plants: Principles, Applications and Case Studies
Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century: World Nuclear University Press
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who Turned Out the Lights?,
This book begins with how we got to where we are today and goes on to discuss the challenges we are facing as a country. Who Turned Out the Lights? talks about all forms of energy from coal to oil to electricity to solar to wind to geothermal. It explains how each type of energy is made and the pros and cons of using it or other sources.
The authors discuss a wide variety of topics including global warming, energy efficient homes, hybrid cars, nuclear power accidents, our aging electric grid and President Obama's promises regarding the energy crisis.
If you're looking for an easy to understand book that will introduce you to the energy crisis and offer non-biased explanations and suggestions, I'd highly recommend you read this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An accessible introduction,
The goal of the book is to present possible solutions to America's energy problems in an unbiased way. The pros and cons of each solution (more nuclear power, increased oil drilling, a tax on carbon emissions, etc.) are explained, and the authors try to avoid making judgements about what's best, leaving it for the reader to make up her own mind.
I do think that they succeed in explaining the issues clearly, though ultimately, I can't really say that I learned very much from this book. I suspect that, like me, many of the people who would be inclined to read something like this are already reasonably well-informed.
Still, I think this is a good introduction to the topic. Perhaps the highest indication of its success is the fact that I'm considering reading the authors' previous book, Where Does the Money Go?, about the federal budget crisis. As a Canadian who just recently moved to the United States, that's something that I really know nothing about--making me fit perfectly into the target audience.
So, in brief, Who Turned Out the Lights? is a good introductory book, very accessible and easy to read, but not necessarily for those who are already familiar with the topic.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good coverage of an important topic,
Overall, the authors do a great job of assembling and explaining the facts related to energy policy (government, private, and personal). They did very little advocacy and instead tried to present a balanced view. If you want to make up your own mind about things and don't have time to wade through a few dozen books on energy, then get this one book. Just understand it has some errors in the details (discussed later).
While most nonfiction titles consist of 10 chapters, this book consists of 16. The authors begin (in the preface) by talking about why they wrote the book, who they are, and what their goals are. They tell us they aren't experts, so they had to see what the experts had to say. Some of their sources were not good, but most were.
In the first chapter, the authors talk about the importance of the topic. They list six reasons, but my list would be a bit different from theirs. Still, they get the book off to a good start by laying this foundation.
Chapter Two discusses how we got where we are today and why this problem isn't new. Chapter Three extends this discussion a bit.
Chapter Four discusses some "flawed ideas," one of which irritates me highly. When people talk about increasing supply so we can achieve "energy independence," my first reaction is to try to sell them some beachfront property in Arizona. The authors explain why this idea is loony, and they hit some other ill-founded notions. Much of this kind of nonsense undergirds the bad public policy that we've been plagued with for the past few decades.
Chapter Five lays out 10 facts you need to know. I agree, these are critically important to know. And I like the way the authors explained them. One thing they hit upon is you can use more energy even if you are more energy efficient. A friend of mine lives way out in the sticks and drives his Prius 40 miles one way just to get groceries. If he lived in town and drove a Hummer he'd use less fuel, so he isn't as "green" as he thinks he is.
Chapters Six through Ten each discuss an energy source. The authors do a good job here, except they don't understand power generation and distribution enough to be talking about the use of solar and wind. They misunderstand how net metering really works or how power is actually used on the grid once generated. Having attended multiple IEEE seminars and conferences on these topics, I'll just sum it up by saying the reality and the common rhetoric on "alternative energy" are severely in misalignment.
In Chapter 11, the authors talk about our wasteful housing and they are right on target. A bigger home is a liability, not an asset, beyond a certain size. In addition to wasting energy, it follows Boyle's Law. The amount of junk will expand to fit the house. Unless you are a no-clutter person, you will never have more room simply by having a bigger house. Going from 1,200 square feet to 4,000 square feet would leave the typical homeowner with just as much "closet shortage" and "lack of space" as before but at a much higher cost of heating, cooling, lighting, and cleaning.
Chapter 12 is about the automobile. It's mostly well done, but something the authors don't understand is battery technology. Currently, the only way to give a car decent range without far more battery weight and volume is with lithium batteries. There's only so much lithium in the world and mining it isn't a clean thing. Electric cars don't solve pollution or energy problems. They merely transfer them, while incurring new ones. The solution is to drive less. A lot less. The authors talk about this, too, which is good. As far as what you personally can do to reduce your footprint in this area, this is excellent coverage.
Chapters 13, 14, and 15 examine various solutions. Unfortunately, the authors view much of this through the lens of only the horizontal part of the political spectrum. The reality is that our most important issues have nothing to do with left versus right. Draw a vertical line with liberty at the top and statism at the bottom, and now you have a representation of politics as it's practiced. You have four quadrants. But it's really the position vertically that matters. The authors make no mention of the vertical axis. Even so, they provide some good information here.
Chapter 16 should have tied the book together and provided some conclusions. It seems to be just some final thoughts that didn't fit anywhere else. It lists six realities, and the first one advocates using CFLs. I address that below.
Now, on to those problems. Please understand these are not fatal flaws to an informed reader. The authors aren't stupid or ignorant, but their information sources have limited what they can see and thus how they view things.
They frequently quote from the New York Times in general and Thomas "Reality is not an option" Friedman in particular. They also talk about Al "Colossal Carbon Footprint" Gore as if he's somehow a contributor to serious discussion or actually cares about the planet he plunders.
Some of the areas where their skewed worldview shows up are as follows:
The authors start out by saying they aren't experts. That's true, as they actually advocate the use of CFLs in the home. A compact fluorescent makes certain engineering compromises to get that tiny ballast. So right away, it's not as efficient as other fluorescent lighting methods. The real problem with CFLs is there is almost no application in a home in which a CFL will not waste more energy than its incandescent counterpart.
Any nonlinear load (such as a CFL) will use more energy to get started than it will to run. The many comparisons of CFLs to incandescents do not take this into account. The extra energy can be measured (in terms of inrush current) or calculated (if you know the impedance, capacitance, and inductance of the lighting unit). To "recover" this startup energy via its lower usage during running, a CFL will have to run longer than an incandescent until it actually saves energy compared to the incandescent. I don't know how long exactly, but I can tell you I performed the calculations for a 60W incandescent vs. "standard" 60W fluorescent (four lamps, each 15W) and the number was almost exactly four hours. Since a CFL operates at a lower efficiency, it may need to be on longer than four hours.
If you are leaving any light on for four hours, what you really need to do is shut it off. Where do you use lights in a home? Bathroom, bedroom, living room, kitchen--how much time do you spend in each room with the lights on? So, no, please do NOT use CFLs in your home. We can't afford the waste and pollution.
Somewhere in the text, the authors talk about "police protection." This is purely fictional. Courts have repeatedly ruled the police are not required to protect private citizens, and thus suffer no liability if they don't. Companies like Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Remington, and Glock provide the tools for citizens to protect themselves. These safety tools are readily available, as is the training to use them properly.
Electrical transmission lines
The authors are completely misinformed on this subject. The conductor is copper or aluminum, period. There are no "better lines" we can install, though we can replace conductors in which the insulation is degraded. It's not like we aren't doing this; there are companies that specialize in detecting the corona that indicates degraded insulation in high voltage wires. There aren't advanced materials, etc., that we can use to replace our overhead or underground lines so they magically are more efficient. I would suggest the authors look through back issues of Transmission & Distribution World, instead of the disinformation spewed by the New York Times.
The authors mention that profits on some SUVs were "more than $9,000 by some estimates." Well, yes. Try $15,000. And this is not from an estimate. When Jacques Nasser was President of the Ford Motor Company, he ended the production of the Ford Probe and his reason was quoted in several business publications. Basically, he said the profit on a particular model of SUV (I forget which one, but I think it was the Explorer) was $15,000 but they were selling Probes for $14,000 and that just did not make sense to him.
The authors point out that President Bush didn't sign this treaty, but fail to point out what a farce that treaty was. Even if we ignore the absurdity contained in the treaty (look up the diesel requirements, for example), we can't escape the fact that not one signatory has kept its promises. That treaty wasn't about reducing carbon emissions. It was about stealing from specific countries, one of which is the USA.
Cap and Trade
The authors didn't do their homework on this scheme, either. They talk about it as if it's benign. It's not. The mudstream media like to portray the resistance against this lunacy as "right wing" when in fact it has nothing to do with right vs. left but everything to do with theft. That's all it's about--coerced wealth transfers. The potential for abuse is without limit. If adopted, it will make the AIG fiasco look like a positive development for the economy by comparison.
Government energy savings programs
The authors miss the real problem. We don't need to improve the buildings that federal employees report to. We need to eliminate the buildings by downsizing the federal government. Dramatically. And this is entirely doable with no diminution of the "services" now provided by the federal government (such that they are).
The GAO reports, for example, that IRS employees spend half their office time surfing p*rn and gambling sites. But these same people have had time to run scams like the Hoyt Fiasco and the Amcor Debacle. A 50% layoff would not hurt the IRS one bit; they can still keep up their 94% error rate on notices sent out--with only half as many people in half as many buildings. Or pass the Fair Tax and abolish this resource-wasting den of criminal activity completely.
I think if you pick nearly any government agency, you will find bureaucratic bloat that can easily be cut in half. So we eliminate half the federal buildings and immediately see a 100% improvement in energy usage. As a side benefit, let's consider the studies done in the early 1980s showing that each federal job costs us 50 jobs in the private sector (for a variety of reasons). The job losses that have mounted month after month since 2008 would be reversed rather quickly, and eventually those government employees could be absorbed into the larger, more vibrant economy.
But wouldn't the increased prosperity create more energy demand? Yes, but as the authors point out, dragging down an economy isn't a reasonable solution. Another "but" here is the relief granted by this reduction in overhead would also mean that innovators would have a market for green products and green solutions--improving our energy density and making us more efficient. We could then export those products to China and make 1.3 billion people more efficient. What's not to like?
Unfortunately, the authors miss this elephant in the living room by never talking about this solution.
My final criticism of the book is the authors overdo the pop culture. They make a huge number of references to movies, television, and rock music. They assume their audience is in the same cultural groove they are in, and this is always a mistake in a book. While these references do add color, the authors make far too many of them. It's annoying.
While my comments of a critical nature take up much of this review, you have to understand the overall text is accurate. On this kind of topic, nobody is going to get everything correct. Except for the CFL issue, the errors don't undermine the purpose of the book or mislead the reader toward some agenda.
So at the very least, we can say this book does no harm. For most readers, it will do a great deal of good. An understanding of the issues, and the facts behind them, is something the vast majority of Americans do not have. We are drowning in a sea of disinformation.
The authors did a great job of addressing the major points every individual should understand about energy. I think this book, even with its flaws, is a positive contribution to the literature. It's an easy read, and it pretty much covers everything except as noted above. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
4.0 out of 5 stars good except no passive solar,
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Turned Out the Lights?,
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Views and Helpful Hints,
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Who Turned Out the Lights?: Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis by Scott Bittle (Paperback - October 27, 2009)