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Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air Hardcover – February 20, 2009
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"If someone wants an overall view of how energy gets used, where it comes from, and the challenges in switching to new sources, this is the book to read." Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft
"I would choose Sustainable Energy as a text over its competitors because MacKay has moved the energy discussion in the direction where energy alternatives can be considered quantitatively." American Journal of Physics
"A new academic book written by David MacKay, a physics professor at the University of Cambridge, is being hailed by some as a "game changer": a text that could revolutionize popular thinking about our future energy needs and how we could supply them." guardian.co.uk
"A tour de force . . . As a work of popular science it is exemplary . . . For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the real problems involved [it] is the place to start." Economist.com
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One note: The book is written in England from that perspective. Some of the area comparisons are based on parts of England and will require conversion to square miles and states for those of us in the metrically-challenged US. This does not detract at all from the discussions.
One small irritation is that he constantly points out the fact that the per-capita energy consumption in Britain is about half of that in the US. This is partly fair due to our love affair with central heating, muscle cars, pickups and SUVs. However, having personally experienced temperatures of +113F (45C) and -30F (-34C) and driven 70+ miles (113 kilometers) between towns in the US west, I think that at least some of the criticism is overdone. A more fair per-capita comparison might be taken from New England in the US, since both are densely-populated areas in northern maritime climates warmed somewhat by the Gulf Stream. In addition, the solution he proposes to replace all transportation with electric vehicles would not work in the spread-out Western US without either radically new battery technology or battery exchanges.
Despite these small gripes this is a must-read book for energy literacy, whether you download the free e-book or purchase the book itself.
Mr. MacKay did a wonderful job of getting a large amount of hard data together about the UK and to a lesser extent the world, an power, in particular, electrical energy use and generation, now and in the future. It was originally free on line at a web site "withoutthehotair", however as of the date of this write up, unfortunately it is no longer available on line.
MacKay is a British, so this book is written about the United KIngdom, and not the US. However, all of the basic principals and arguments that he presents can be easily applied to the USA. He starts from the place that we like the life that we live with ample and reasonably priced electricity. He does address the CO2 emission issue, for the global warming crew, so there is hard information to consider. He is not going down the hair shirt route that we all need to cut our energy use by x percent or the world will cook tomorrow. It is so nice to look at a book that deals with real numbers and the world as it is, and that people like living in this world. He looks briefly at the world and history of CO2 emission over the years essentially since before the industrial revolution.
He does a wonderful and very comprehensive job of looking at the different proposals for generating energy such as tidal, wave, wind, geothermal, etc. The specifics are tied to the UK, but they can be applied to the USA or any other country as applicable. Tidal could apply to the Bay of Fundy for example in North America. He has a breakout for where all of the energy including the electrical energy goes which is interesting. He breakouts out total energy consumption including air travel. He looks at the energy that is used for housing and different approaches. All of this is preparation for the last section of the book, where you can play king for a day, and devise your own approach to providing the required electrical power fro the UK by selecting the option that you prefer. He includes nuclear as an option.
My favorite section is 27, "Five Energy Plans for Britain", where he presents five different options to illustrate the choices that one must make in deciding what options to select among wind, tide, solar, geothermal. nuclear, solar in the desert, hydro, waste etc.