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Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air [Hardcover]

David JC MacKay
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 20 2009
Addressing the sustainable energy crisis in an objective manner, this enlightening book analyzes the relevant numbers and organizes a plan for change on both a personal level and an international scale—for Europe, the Untied States, and the world. In case study format, this informative reference answers questions surrounding nuclear energy, the potential of sustainable fossil fuels, and the possibilities of sharing renewable power with foreign countries. While underlining the difficulty of minimizing consumption, the tone remains positive as it debunks misinformation and clearly explains the calculations of expenditure per person to encourage people to make individual changes that will benefit the world at large.

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Review

"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."  —Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft



"I would choose Sustainable Energy as a text over its competitors because MacKay has moved the energy discussion in the direction where energy alternatives can be considered quantitatively."  —American Journal of Physics



"A new academic book written by David MacKay, a physics professor at the University of Cambridge, is being hailed by some as a "game changer": a text that could revolutionize popular thinking about our future energy needs and how we could supply them."  —guardian.co.uk



"May be the best technical book about the environment that I've ever read.  This is to energy and climate what Freakonomics is to economics."  —boingboing.net


"The main text of his book is readable (and witty) and its technical appendices bristle with equations. If the planet and its people are the patient, MacKay's book is the the lab results, temperature chart and electrocardiogram." —The New York Review of Books (April 26, 2012)


"This is a brilliant book that is both a racy read and hugely informative . . . It shows . . . how cars might become far more efficient but why planes cannot."  —David Newbery, director, Electricity Policy Research Group, University of Cambridge


"A tour de force . . . As a work of popular science it is exemplary . . . For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the real problems involved [it] is the place to start."  —Economist.com



"If only all scientists could adopt this approach, then perhaps there would be no need for politically motivated TV documentaries."  —The Sun

About the Author

David MacKay is a professor in the department of physics at Cambridge University, a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Climate Change, and a regular lecturer on sustainable energy.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By David Wineberg TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
The true value of Without (the) Hot Air is that it reduces all forms of energy consumption to a single common denominator. This allows us to compare them right up against each other. At last we can see the true potential - or lack of it - in all the various alternatives (wind, sun, light, ocean, tide, biofuels, coal, nuclear ...)that are continually foisted upon us as the panacea. They aren't - and here's why, and why you should be wary of snakeoil salesmen in any domain. Get the facts; see for yourself. Be able to smirk to yourself when you know they're lying. Good wholesome fun for all. If everyone read this book, it would raise the level of discussion by an order of magnitude.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best overview out there Dec 7 2009
Format:Paperback
I was astounded at how this book managed to cover this vast and complex topic so thoroughly. Truly worth reading, and fun too. I have a PhD in engineering, and am so pleased someone cut through the baloney out there and laid it out all in nice graphical and numerical format. Perhaps there are a lot of numbers for some, but this is a book built on fact, not opinion. PS. you can download it in electronic form [...].
I bought the paperback because it was good enough I wanted one on my shelf to show people!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard numbers Nov. 16 2009
Format:Paperback
Excellent book. Very easy to understand despite the copious amount of numbers. The quantitative approach, even if there are lots of guesses and ballpark figures, is refreshing. The author tries to find out of things add up (for the UK specifically, but this can be extrapolated to other countries), and in the process learns a lot. I recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Green Energy 101 Dec 20 2011
By smur
Format:Paperback
This was a book I purchased and not having an energy or science background made me apprehensive at first. This is an excellent book for anyone - including novices. The author, despite being a professor of physics, writes in a manner that is easily understood by policy-makers and decision makers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  63 reviews
63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read if discussing sustainable or renewable energy March 5 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is an essential resource for understanding energy policy as it relates to conservation and to renewable resources.

I've just been listening to yet another "news" report pointing out that compact fluorescent light bulbs don't save much energy because an incandescent light bulb will also heat your house.

Coincidentally I had just read the part of this book dealing with this myth, so I was able to confidently mutter under my breath "true, but only in the winter (when you need the heating) and only if you are heating inefficiently using electricity."

This book puts real numbers to a lot of hand-waving arguments which are used to justify grandiose claims made for different renewable energy sources or to imply that we could save the world if we all just unplugged our mobile phone chargers. Some of the arguments stand up when the numbers are put in, but many don't. When you see what the numbers are, it becomes evident how unrealistic and ineffectual many of the proposals are.

Is it worth unplugging a power block when not in use? Can planes be made more efficient? How much space would solar farms or a wind farms need to occupy to meet our energy needs? How much agricultural land would be required for bio-diesel? All these questions (and many more) are answered.

What makes this book really stand out is that it converts energy amounts to comprehensible units (kilowatt-hours per person per day), supplies copious references for the numbers used, and provides the calculations on which the arguments are based. (Detailed calculations are presented in appendices for the math-averse and should be accessible to anybody with a basic knowledge of physics).

Note. Although this book is primarily aimed at a UK audience (energy consumption figures are based upon UK patterns, and land use proposals are related to UK locations), the discussions are of global applicability.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do the numbers! March 4 2009
By Robert Hargraves - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is essential for anyone thinking about energy policy. It excels because MacKay does not espouse one specific solution, but rather teaches the reader how to create solutions and evaluate them. He emphasizes that the numbers must add up -- total energy production must equal total energy consumption.

In a way the book is very simple. He leads the reader by the hand in estimating the energy requirements of society - transportation, heat, food, gadgets, and so on. He similarly helps you make credible estimates of achievable production from sources such as sunlight, tides, hydro, nuclear, wind, coal, and oil.

Like a good physicist, MacKay is able stand back and estimate these numbers top-down from first principles, with just enough depth to generate numbers that are credible to you and good enough for policy making.

The charts, graphs, tables, and pictures are extensive and clear.

If you have a particularly loved energy source [wind?] or a particularly hated one [coal?] you can "do the numbers" and build your own energy policy. The only requirement is that the numbers add up!
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential purchase Aug. 9 2009
By D. BULL - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I work for an environmental watchdog in New Zealand. I flicked through the first few pages of "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" as it sat on a colleague's desk, took it back to my own desk and read it for two hours straight, got online and bought my own copy. It's that good.
For a start, this is how environmental science should be communicated; crystal clear text and honest graphs, with simplified theory and ballpark calculations that anyone can follow, backed up by empirical data as a check on results, real examples, frequent references, and explanations of limitations.
But the thinking behind it is every bit as good. MacKay is entirely pragmatic about energy supply and demand, never preachy, and he is game enough to admit when his results surprise even himself. If he is cautiously optimistic in his conclusions, it is because he has laid out a number of justifiable options.
Buy it. Better still, buy it and read it.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Is Free On His Web Site May 17 2011
By Whiksey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Great Book. But it is available for free. Why would I pay $28 for a Kindle version when I can download the pdf?
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Approachable and Systematic Primer on Sustainable Energy July 27 2010
By Thomas A. Sobieck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This book was amazingly well written, and frankly, it scared the hell out of me. In clear concise language the author describes many alternative energy sources without the flimsy "if everyone unplugged their cell phone chargers we could power X houses" foolishness. He used physics and graphs. To show the land costs of some of the energy projects he used *gasp* maps.

Our civilization needs to make hard decisions about our energy future. This book is an essential resource for citizens. It truly gives you the facts about energy sources without the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that many activists and lobbyists rely on. I know that I'm going to send a copy to all my representatives and tell them to get moving on helping the US become energy independent (a cause I didn't care that much about until reading this book).

And, finally, this is a free book. If you own a Kindle DX, go download the PDF in high definition from the author's website. The print is a little small, but it was worth saving the $30.
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