Book: Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air
A serious cover suits this serious book. (The edition with a colourful cover gives you the false impression that this book is somehow ‘fun’).

Pleasantly optimistic but overly simplistic.
384 pages, ★★★

If only all the world’s energy needs and its climate worries could be solved by one author with a laptop. That’s what this book attempts to do. Even an optimist would struggle to believe that. It takes the collective action of many people’s mindsets and lifestyles, along with concerted action by business and governments to manage climatic change and build a reliable supply of renewable energy. Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air simply aims too high.

This book analyses, then over-analyses and extrapolates wildly. (I forgive the author, as it is very difficult to do anything in the field of climate policy without sounding alarmist—although Bjørn Lomborg was one of few authors to do that successfully.) The fundamental data is abundant and extremely useful for policy-makers. The analysis is a little simplistic, and the numerical extrapolations are not to be believed at all. Of course it would be marvellous for the UK to become energy-independent on solar, wind and biomass by 2050, but investors won’t be encouraged by these hasty, lofty calculations. Gut instinct is enough.

Apart from the opportunities posed by building a giant dam across the Severn Estuary (a project probably beyond Britain’s capability right now), the reality is that Britain isn’t particularly well-suited to energy production. The UK has no more coal, no more gas, and no extreme weather that would make solar power or wind turbines highly profitable (try the Sahara or northern Europe for that). Perhaps Britain should focus on other industries (like a high-voltage, intercontinental direct current electric grid) and import energy instead?

The dodgy references worry me. They’re all internet-based and are written bewilderingly as a series of short URLs (like bit.ly/4dgf82). I know from experience that there’s enough material on Google to support basically any thesis—or even a pair of contradicting theses.

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air is a collection of good ideas—but take the quantified results with a pinch of salt. Three stars for optimism and for effort. This book isn’t the magic bullet it appears to be. ★★★

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