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Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air

David J C MacKay
Published by UIT
ISBN: 978-0-9544529-3-3
384 pages
£ 19.99
Published: 1st December 2008
reviewed by Paul Waring
   in the December 2008 issue (pdf), (html)

This book might seem a little off the beaten track, compared with the usual technical books on review in the newsletter. Sustainable energy is a hot topic at the moment though, especially for the IT industry where huge data centres suck in enormous amounts of power just to keep machines cool, bringing in both environmental and financial problems, and you can't turn on the news today without hearing about climate change.

The author begins by lambasting most of the conventional reports on sustainable energy, with quotes along the lines of “if everyone does a little, we'll achieve only a little”. One gets the feeling that this text isn't your standard run of the mill book on climate change, a view which is confirmed the further on you read.

The first few chapters of the book present a broad overview of energy use and requirements, particularly focusing on Britain's share of world energy consumption. Colourful graphs and figures make the information easy to absorb, and the technical detail is reserved for the notes at the end of each chapter in most cases. Further into the book, topics such as the energy required to produce most of our consumables are tackled, with some particularly interesting figures, such as the amount of fossil fuels required to produce a personal computer (250kg — excluding the transportation costs). Transport geeks will enjoy the chapters dedicated to this area of energy use, with hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles all given a degree of coverage. All areas of renewable energy are covered too, from solar to wind, followed by a fairly balanced discussion of nuclear's role.

There are lots of references throughout the text backing up the author's points — this is certainly a well researched book. Technical detail abounds, including plenty of photographs, so if you are interested in all things mechanical there's plenty of material to get your teeth into. Part III in particular is entirely devoted to the mathematics and physics of how various sources of sustainable energy work, though I must admit to getting lost at this point as my mechanics knowledge is rusty to say the least.

If you want a refreshing outlook on sustainable energy and can handle plenty of figures and calculations, this book makes interesting reading. You do need to know a little bit about the subject of energy generation in order to get the full benefit, and you have to overlook the author's impression that he is always right, but if you can cope with that it's definitely worthwhile taking a look at this text if you're interested in how energy can be generated in a sustainable manner.

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