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Energy: A Beginner's Guide Paperback – May 1 2006
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David G. Victor - Director, Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, Stanford University"Smil's 'Energy' is rich in thoughtful insights and written in sparkling prose, this little book offers a sweeping survey of the many ways that energy moves our economy and ecology."Sir Crispin Tickell - Former Chairman of both the Board of the Climate Institute of Washington DC and the International Institute for Environment"This admirably clear and comprehensive guide shows how we us and misuse energy, and the prospects, as ever more if us devour the Earth's diminishing capital of fossil fuels."
About the Author
Author Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba, Canada. He has written over 10 books on energy and been a keynote speaker at both the World Economic Forum and the Global Roundtable on Climate Change. He is the first non-American to receive the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology and is a Special Fellow of the Royal Society.
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Some more serious problems occur on page 152, where the parenthetical definition of "net energy ratio" is actually the the definition of EROI, energy return on investment (of energy). The numbers discussed in the remainder of the paragraph are actually values of 1- 1/EROI . A true beginner would be flummoxed.
Another grievance is that the difference between installed capacity of wind power and the actual production of electrical power is not emphasized forcefully enough. A wind production number is given on page 169 (as a percent of world electrical power), but you are on your own to figure out the important capacity factor, and then to put wind power in a fair comparison with nuclear power and coal power. The summary of wind energy is otherwise excellent, as is the summary of photosynthesis and biofuels. All ethanol fans should read it.
The focus of the book in not renewable energy policy. The scope is much more grand, all done wonderfully in consistent S.I. Units, with respect for the intelligence of the reader. The author gets to the point. Energetics is the most concise way to organize knowledge of your universe. The brilliant author summarizes nearly all of it in 176 pages: your cells, your home economics, your technology, your planet. For larger scale solar and galactic - you may need to shop elsewhere. Presentation of energetics leads to implications in the sociology of jet travel, urban planning, and history of science and technology. For example, on page 93 we learn how the celebrated inventor James Watt delayed progressive development of the steam engine.
The book would be a great investment of time and money if a better book was not available: "Energy in Nature and Society", published by Smil in 2008. That book has more figures, of better quality, appendices and approximately 3 times the amount of text. The overlap in not complete, though. You won't find that tidbit about Watt in the 2008 work, or the fact that swarms of insects soiling the leading edge of wind turbine blades can cause a nearly instant drop in power production by up to 20%.
1. Energy in our minds: concepts and measures
2. Energy in the biosphere: how nature works
3. Energy in human history: muscles, tools and machines
4. Energy in the modern world: fossil-fueled civilization
5. Energy in everyday life: from eating to emailing
6. Energy in the future: trends and unknowns
I highly recommend this book to all. In fact, i think this book should be a required reading for every citizen because energy is such an important factor in human life and economy, and assumes more importance in current times because of its relevance to sustainability. Added bonus that its an entertaining read.
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