- Unknown Binding
- Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 29, 2011)
- ASIN: B004XNZV7W
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
POWERING THE DREAM: THE HISTORY AND PROMISE OF GREEN TECHNOLOGY[Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology BY Madrigal, Alexis]Hardcover ON Mar-29-2011
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
Highly recomend to anyone interested in the history of harnessing the energy of the sun.
From the beginning, this book project has been, to my knowledge, utterly unique: a view on modern cleantech / clean energy through the lens of history. I just don't think it had occurred to many of us that clean energy -- which seems so newfangled -- had a long history. But in the pages of Powering The Dream we discover the earliest electric cars -- which were contemporaneous with the first conventional, gasoline-powered cars. There are old, even ancient, systems for harvesting wind, waves, tides; there's the first janky, not-quite-ready for prime time nuclear power plants.
Here's the nub of this book, the lesson we should all take to heart: the history of energy in this country, on this planet, even, is highly path dependent. In other words, governments and individuals made decisions to pursue some paths and not others. Renewables are hard, but for entirely different reasons, so are conventional sources of energy. By showing us a past full of failed (and occasionally, successful) experiments in harvesting energy from anyplace but the sunglight stored in fossil fuel reserves, Powering the Dream invites us to play what-if: What if we'd taken a different energy path.
In an age of climate change and dwindling supplies of (some) fossil fuels, Powering the Dream is a helpful, hopeful opposite to an awful lot of either groundlessly sunny optimism or dire predictions of collapse. It posits, simply, that the pool of technologies from which we can draw energy is bigger than we typically imagine, and that in the experiments of the past are the foundations of the energy sources of the future.
Where software and computing has been continually enhanced through reaffirmations of Moore's Law, will applying the same philosophy to energy lead to suffering Moore's curse? Though few advocating for an innovation based solution to climate change through access to the infinite power of the wind and sun realize they are echoing the words of an early 19th century techno-utopian they do so all the same, carrying John Etzler's biases and assumptions along with them. The innovative and shiny energy technologies touted by politicians and slick commercials as solutions to our ability to `win the future' have been with us for our history as a nation. We had electric cars with a streamlined swap-out infrastructure for fresh batteries at the end of the 19th century and megawatt scale wind turbines in the 1940s.
The history of fossil fuel alternatives reveal a world of missed opportunities and frustrating political shortsightedness. When fundamental rules of the global energy paradigm changed in the 1970s the problem of depleting fossil fuels was recognized and the United States responded by founding the Solar Energy Research Institute, developing technology to drop the cost of electricity generated by photovoltaics from $100/watt in 1970 to $10/watt in 1973 and establishing efficiency standards for appliances. The National Renewable Energy Lab's Aquatic Species Program built a catalogue of algae that could have provided a foundation for commercial scale algal biofuels with only the equivalent of $100 million in total funding, to put that in perspective Exxon made $142 million on each day of 2008. When federal support for the program dried up in 1981, the project was scrapped, knowledge faded away and many of the algal strains selected for their efficiency were lost. A decade of progress was undermined when the Reagan administration cut federal funds that would have allowed the clean energy sector to survive American ignorance towards energy when it comes cheaply.
While federal policies threw up roadblocks, so did state level politics. Solar thermal power provides the greatest hope for inexpensive and reliable utility-scale energy from the sun, a company named Luz built many plants based on the technology in the 1980s. Just as Luz was at the point of enabling solar thermal electricity to compete with fossil fuels on price, unfortunate timing in the California legislature killed the laws allowing Luz's business models to work. The company went bankrupt and the solar thermal industry stalled for decades. Through these unfortunate stories we see that energy technologies aren't selected for efficiency and rationality but shifted through bizarre economics that destroyed knowledge and postponed innovation, costing valuable time in the race to beat the depletion of global oil fields.
The search for a technological breakthrough that magically makes the blowing wind or the sun's luminosity into a miracle energy source is exposed in the absurdity of Kenetech's rise and fall. Claiming a rapid advance in turbine technology that would allow wind to compete with fossil fuels, Kenetech raised tremendous capital through grandiose promises and collapsed when its poor product literally fell apart. A rapid boom and bust cycle for Kenetech exemplified the American wind sector, all while years of sustained Dutch investment had created a robust wind industry in the Netherlands with a reliable product.
Has the American approach to innovation and business finally met its match with the challenge of energy? Or, did more than a century of attempts at alternative energy build the foundation for a national energy revolution? Powering the Dream doesn't explicitly come down on either side of these questions but outlines a fascinating and overlooked history of failures and successes as they were impeded by regulatory frameworks and politics. Where our view of environmentalism is often limited to a perception of pristine nature fighting fossil fueled industrialization, perhaps green energy will finally succeed by uniting the patience of the ecologist with the creativity of the engineer.