Sustainable energy without the hot air
Introduced by Cimino 17 September 2010
Bill Gates puts it as well as anyone:
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.
Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air was written by physicist David J C MacKay and published just nine months before Gordon Brown set up the Department of Energy and Climate Change, with Professor MacKay as its chief scientific advisor.
That Professor MacKay was appointed to the role is a credit to Gordon Brown because the former is not particularly complimentary about the latter’s performance as Energy Minister. Mind, he is positively derisive of Tony Blair.
Professor MacKay stresses that he is not an economist, but that carbon-dioxide-free energy alternatives have to add up physically before debating what might be affordable, or politically acceptable:
This is a straight-talking book about the numbers. The aim is to guide the reader around the claptrap to actions that really make a difference and to policies that add up.
Many books on climate action ignore nuclear power or rule it out on account of the supposed intractability of the issue of long-lived radioactive by-products. Professor MacKay’s book is comprehensive, and accordingly covers the fourth-generation technologies for generating power from so‑called nuclear waste, and from thorium.
If anything, Bill Gates undersells Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. Professor MacKay brilliantly illustrates his numbers with beautifully clear charts—an excellent example is on page 12. Encouragingly, Professor MacKay displays a number of energy plans that do stack up. All that is needed now is the said courage.
Although the book in its entirety is available online, it has the most uninviting home page. Lest potential readers be turned off by that, the Mahurangi Magazine provides access directly from this page:
Part one: Numbers, not adjectives
- The balance sheet
- Heating and cooling
- Offshore wind
- Food and farming
- Public services
- Can we live on renewables?
Part two: Making a difference
- Every big helps
- Better transport
- Smarter heating
- Efficient electricity use
- Sustainable fossil fuels?
- Living on other countries’ renewables?
- Fluctuations and storage
- Five energy plans for Britain
- Putting costs in perspective
- What to do now
- Energy plans for Europe, America, and the world
- The last thing we should talk about
- Saying yes
Part three: Technical chapters
Part four: Useful data