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I bought this from Amazon when it originally came out and accidentally ordered two copies, a mistake which I am eternally grateful for because frequently lean on both copies. Although the argument has moved on slightly since this was written, most of the arguments are still valid, and the way that he reduces complicated concepts to simple numbers is utterly brilliant and compelling. I'd give this book 7 stars if I could.
I read this as a (free) ebook but the diagrams and graphs just don't work on an e-reader, so I got this hard-copy version. A lot of it is very dated (2008 I think) but a lot concerns things that won't change, eg the amount of energy available from wind or the power output of the sun per sq. metre. so it's still relevant. Really well written with a healthy degree of scientific scepticism and a dash of dry humour. Highly recommended.
MacKay delves into the fundamental engineering, thermodynamics, and physical limits of net zero options to build a sustainable energy future. The book is over a decade old now and some of the performance assumptions in areas like wind, solar, and batteries are outdated given the huge declines since publication, but the fundamental physics is sound and provides an enlightening take on energy technologies which helps the reader look beyond the many claims and counter claims in this most thorny of subjects. ‘Sustainable Energy’ is one of my favourite introductions to the technology of net zero. Full review see: https://net-zero.blog/bookshelf/sustainable-energy-without-the-hot-air
I cannot praise this book highly enough. With admirable clarity, honesty and lack of bias, David MacKay sets out the facts surrounding energy consumption and renewable energy generation. He explains, with the help of clear and not overly complicated mathematics, how much energy our different activities consume. He also explains, in a similar way, the capacity of different sustainable and non-carbon energy sources to meet that consumption. He enables the reader to understand the facts and make comparisons and informed moral choices.
The result is quite sobering reading. For example, after reading and understanding this book you will realise that at present rates of individual consumption (flying abroad, driving around a lot, buying lots of consumer goods and turning up the thermostat) there is no way we can meet our energy needs from renewables without also including nuclear power in the mix and/or completely industrialising our landscape (assuming we want to stop using fossil fuels). However MacKay is NOT a doom-and-gloom merchant. The facts speak for themselves. While 'climate change denial' is not logically justifiable after reading this book, MacKay's view is: okay we've got a problem, so let's look at the facts and see what can be done. But let's not obfuscate and cover it up with platitudes like "we've got a huge amount of wind in Britain" ' - as he shows, 'huge' is relative, and it turns out that our consumption is a whole lot huger.
The book is beautifully designed and illustrated with clear diagrams expressing all the information you need to understand this topic; all of it useful, and some of it alarming and/or surprising.
It should be compulsory reading for students of Year 11 upwards, and should be tax deductable for the rest of us! Having said that, it is also in the public domain so you don't have to buy the book; you can find it online and download the PDF.
How should Britain handle climate change and limited fossil fuel sources? If you want a book that is demanding upon your powers of concentration and mathematics as you lie in bed at night, but brimming , on the one hand with a focus on the important and key energy issues, yet on the other hand airing lots of innovative ideas, then this is the book to keep you awake.
Accepting that fossil fuels are finite, security of energy supplies are important and that fossil fuels change the climate David MacKay works on the assumption that we need renewables. But that we need energy numbers that add up and policies that add up.
He is frustrated by the flood of ineffective ideas for solving the energy crisis, the lack of meaningful numbers and the inundation of crazy innumerate codswallop. He castigates the excuse used to justify ineffective policies " every little helps" with his reply " if everyone does a little we will only achieve a little".
The book then proceeds to evaluate the balance sheet of power usage and sources using kilowatt hours per day per person so he can make comparison between countries and regions.
He looks at the major causes of energy consumption - cars, planes, transport, domestic heating and cooling, farming, lighting , gadgets and stuff. And he looks at the major serious renewable sources of energy generation - solar, onshore wind , offshore wind, biomass, hydroelectricity, tide, wave and nuclear.
With sweeping generalisations about their physical potential - not their cost - he quantifies their potential importance. This allows a discussion of the merits of alternatives.
Without looking at the economics, he draws conclusions about the real, quantifiable, measurable potential of each source and what he calls "the last thing we should look at " , carbon capture.
He draws conclusions about where the effort should be focussed and advances alternative energy plans for Britain to get away from its current fossil fuel addiction. His sole recommendation is "Make sure your policies include a plan that adds up".
As Mackay says the heated debate on energy policy is fundamentally about numbers, but actual numbers are rarely mentioned. All it needs now is integrating Mackay's quantification of the balance sheet ignoring fossil fuel sources with the reality of an energy policy based predominantly on fossil fuels and costing it and we have the basis for an informed discussion.
Most of what we hear about energy science (and climate change) comes via the questionable filter of journalism. Journalists instinctively soften, harden or spin stories according to the needs of their publication and their career. After all no Journalist wants to write a heavily committed story only to find that it's all disproved and they have been publicly duped. Also, journalists dislike being too definite about anything because it will alienate readers. Much better to uses phrases like "Suggests that" rather than "Proves that" if you are looking to enrage the fewest possible readers. Unfortunately, such approaches tend to dilute, and sometimes even emasculate the original message.
For me the most "aha" moment on Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" movie was when he showed how some very definite outcomes of scientific work looking at the reality of climate change had been - on a grand scale - softened into possiblys and maybes and "suggests thats" in press reporting of that work. For me that cleared up the confusion I had about why the tone of most press coverage of the subject (up to that point) seemed rather tentative, yet there seemed to be so many well respected scientists taking it very seriously.
Unfortunately for the interested - but non scientific - reader, the results of most scientific work is published in forms that assume far too much foreknowledge to be accessible. This means that scientific knowledge is often only available to the man in the street in regurgitated form, through the mainstream media - with all the problems outlined above. Enter, David Mackay and this book. This is science disintermediated: Although he is writing for an intelligent, but predominantly non-scientific audience, you can tell the man is a scientist to his fingertips.
Everything worth saying about the scary content and conclusions of this book has already been said in the other reviews, so I won't repeat all that. Suffice to say that the conclusion (simplistically stated) is that we have to change our lifestyles and use far less energy, if we want any kind of sustainable future. However, let me add a couple of my own opinions about the book itself.
I don't believe I am unintelligent, but I find it hard to agree with the people who say that this is easy to assimilate. It does throw out a constant slew of facts and figures, estimates, forward and back references. I found it hard to keep tabs on how all these related to one another. I understood the broad thrust of each section, and it's certainly not formula laden text, of the kind that you would find in a hard science book. Nevertheless, I can't agree with people who say that it's a painless read for the non-scientific mind. However, I can assure people who have not yet read the book that it IS worth the effort.
The book professes to be non political - i.e. it does not take sides, however it does tend to poke a little fun at the political classes and teeters on the brink of politics at various points when suggesting possible future policies. That is not a criticism, just an observation: Totally disentangling politics from energy policy is not really possible.
As a stake in the ground, to mark the starting line of our journey into a future without fossil fuels, this book could hardly be bettered.
If you are interested in Sustainable Energy, and the separation of truth from (much) fantasy, this is I think the best book you can get. Our politicians, keen on box ticking and playing one-upmanship at conferences, seem to be proceeding with the idea that windmills, burning trees and so on are well on the way to covering our energy needs, whereas Prof. MacKay shows by proper analysis that these sources can never be more than a minority contributor (at least in the UK). Every professional politician (is there any other sort these days!?), ours esp, should be locked in a room with a copy of this book and not let out until they've passed an exam to at least make sure that they know a kWh from a hole in the ground!
This is a great book written by the late David McKay, which sets out all the facts about renewable energies. He strips apart phrases like, "there is more than enough wind power available" , and determines how much actual wind power there could be available. In this case, he reasonably shows that if we peppered the near-shore seas and lots of UK landmass with wind-turbines, we'd not have enough power from them. They do help, of course, but they can't do the job on their own.
Well worth a read, if you want to cut out all the claptrap given to us by our politicians.
It's rare to find a book that is so full of good, scientific facts and well-researched figures, and yet is so enjoyable to read.
Well-worth reading from beginning to end, it's also fun to dip into. The prose is light-hearted and chatty - by far the best way to get across a serious message - and the book is beautifully produced, with interesting charts, page layouts and illustrations - even some of the captions make for amusing reading. You can feel the author's sense of humour leaking through all over the place.
I think we should be lobbying the BBC to make this into a documentary series. It would also be a great basis for A-level physics teaching. There aren't many books which fit both roles so well.
A splendid gift for anyone you know who is interested in realistic, rather than emotional, ways to deal with today's energy challenges. Recommended.
Yes you can get this book for free on the internet as a free download.
Before this book was printed, I got to read a pre-release electronic version.
After it was published, knowing full well that a free "creative-commons" version is also available for free, legal download, I still bought the book in print. I have also bought this book in print for friends. I felt it is too important a book to leave as an HTML link in someone's email box.
The author is incredibly generous to offer this book for free. But he really doesn't have anything to fear, because people will still pay for this book. Not only does the author manage to change the agenda in the sustainable energy discussion, he also validates the Open Source movement ethos. Brilliant.
I don't need to tell you why this book is so good - just read the other reviews.