Customer Reviews: Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Showing 1-7 of 7 reviews(4 star). Show all reviews
on July 27, 2010
This book was amazingly well written, and frankly, it scared the hell out of me. In clear concise language the author describes many alternative energy sources without the flimsy "if everyone unplugged their cell phone chargers we could power X houses" foolishness. He used physics and graphs. To show the land costs of some of the energy projects he used *gasp* maps.

Our civilization needs to make hard decisions about our energy future. This book is an essential resource for citizens. It truly gives you the facts about energy sources without the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that many activists and lobbyists rely on. I know that I'm going to send a copy to all my representatives and tell them to get moving on helping the US become energy independent (a cause I didn't care that much about until reading this book).

And, finally, this is a free book. If you own a Kindle DX, go download the PDF in high definition from the author's website. The print is a little small, but it was worth saving the $30.
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on November 7, 2010
Davis K. C. MacKay did an excellent job of explaining sustainable energy in ways that I could understand. As a person that hasn't been too interested in this topic, he made points that really got me thinking. What I liked about this book was that MacKay separated his opinions from the facts. His opinions were backed up with reasoning and his fact were backed up with credible information. Although this book was general directed to the UK, his points could be viewed as global issues as well. In result, this is was an easy read and got me more interested into sustainable resources.
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on November 7, 2010
Mackay did a good job laying out the book and making it easy for read even for someone who doesn't know anything about sustainable energy or policy. I found there was a lot of good information and Mackay also did a great job of estimating the policy that could come into effect for all sustainable fields. The good thing about this book is Mackay backs up all his guesses with empirical data. Mackay also brings up points about sustainable energy that no one really thinks about, he mentions the vast amount of land needed to harvest sustainable energy, an example would be UK needing to give up 10% of their total land to have a wind farm that would even make any contribution to energy. All in all this was a great read that did a great job of laying out the raw numbers of sustainable energy and letting the reader come to their own conclusion.
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on May 7, 2013
This book is very comprehensive about the various renewable energies and was an easy read. This book was a great book for an introduction to renewable energy. All of the students in my class still have this book and we use it for referernce all of the time.
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on May 14, 2009
MacKay's attempt to provide an insight to the real numbers involved in the overall energy challenge and to make people think is highly laudable. Unfortunately, he is not always very exact with his assumptions (and garbage in -> garbage out...) Just one example: he assumes an average wind speed for the UK of 6 m/s, but a brief look at the European wind atlas [...] instead of guessing would have told him that e.g. for the whole of Scotland the value (on hills and ridges where wind turbines are placed usually) is at least twice as high, therefore he underestimated the available energy (which goes with the cube of the wind speed) by a factor of 8 there (in fact, for a value of 6 m/s you'd have to look for some sheltered place even in the rest of the UK!) There are other arguable assumptions, but since all his calculations are very easy to follow it's no big deal to replace faulty input with some more realistic data in order to get a more accurate picture. In any case, many of his general conclusions are still valid. Overall a highly recommended book for people who are not too lazy to think for themselves!
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on March 26, 2015
MacKay introduces some - but not enough - realism into the field of renewable energy. As a professor of physics, he does an excellent job of explaining power and the fundamental physical limitations of various technologies. In particular, wind, solar, and biofuels diffuse sources of energy, so MacKay explains the cost of a particular technology in a variety of units, including m2 needed to provide the average person's power demand and the fraction of Great Britain that would need to be devoted to a particular technology to meet total demand. For example, MacKay calculates that covering the windiest 10% of Great Britain with windmills would provide 20 kWh/d, about half the energy we currently expend driving today! This is a necessary rude awakening for many Greens. Some reviews complain that the efficiency of solar panels has improved since the book was written, but they are missing the larger point: There are physical limitations to what is practical. In the ideal world, the online version of this book could be updated with new information from both the author and readers (like Wikipedia).

Unfortunately, as an academic and government advisor, MacKay appears to have little practical experience with real systems. I think a sabbatical working with a power distributor or hedge fund investing in alternative energy projects would be valuable. MacKay minimizes the difficulty of meeting variable demand with intermittent renewable power sources. For example, he absurdly equates the difficulty of dealing with unpredictable in wind power output with the difficulty in dealing with the highly predictable daily demand cycle using today's flexible fossil fuel generators (p 189). Given that wind power output varies with the cube of wind speed, a 20% drop in wind speed is a 50% drop in power output. The size of the reserve (currently provided by fossil fuels) needed to meet fluctuations in output depend on forecasting accuracy. If flexible fossil fuel plants are not used, variations in output and demand will need to be met by expensive storage systems, which roughly doubles the cost!

Unfortunately, MacKay discusses cost in an isolated chapter, not in the chapters about the technology itself. The cost of photovoltaic electricity is presented in terms of area is the chapter on photovoltaics and the cost in pounds is elsewhere. While MacKay uses clear units for cost in terms of area (10-20 W/m2 or 100-200 m2/person), price is obscure in Table 28.3. We aren't presented with any information about the cost of fossil fuels, including estimates of the "social cost" of carbon. MacKay leaves the reader with the impression that cost is not an important factor when considering how to decarbonize the economy - or whether to decarbonize at all. (Fossil fuel production will peak someday and economic factors will force decarbonization long before complete depletion, but the impetus for decarbonization today is clearly climate change.)

Mackay ignores other costs. In Table 20.8, we learn that trains consume only 6 kWh of energy moving one person 100 kilometers, while buses consume 19 kWh doing the same job. However a train requires very expensive tunnels or that contiguous land be dedicated solely for railroad track that is occupied only a small fraction of the day. Buses, cars and other forms of transportation can share the same right of way. Cars and planes consume 68 and 51 kWh doing the same job, but can take one from home to a final destination in far less time and for lower total cost. MacKay is fixated on reporting costs in terms of some useful units (m2 per person), but not other useful units.

In reality, many of us and society as a whole can't afford to maintain our current lifestyle using renewable energy. The solution to that problem - conservation - can be found on p228-9: stop flying (save 35 kWh/d), drive at least 50% less (save 20 kWh), change your thermostat setting (20 kWh/d), replace old buildings (35 kWh/d) and even air-drying laundry (0.5 kW/d). Although he doesn't say so explicitly, MacKay would prefer that change be enforced by government edict rather than be driven by a carbon tax and the marketplace.

Despite my criticisms, the book (which is also available online for free) is an extremely useful resource.
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on June 2, 2016
I liked it because it made commercial sense
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