For all the readers on this site interesting in climate change, policy, and technology, David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air is a text that could be very profitably incorporated into our discussions. It seeks to evaluate whether (and how) society could operate without fossil fuels. It does so systematically, with all work shown, allowing you to question the methods and perform your own calculations for different circumstances. Another nice feature is that it is available online for free, though you may find it worthwhile to buy a professionally printed and bound copy.
The book is all about what is physically possible, rather than what is economical. As such, it sets a kind of base standard for sustainability. It evaluates whether something can be done at any cost, a pre-requisite to it being possible at a reasonable one.
To begin with, here is the methodology (p. 22 -28). It explains the exercise being undertaken and explains the key units to be used. The main unit of power selected is the somewhat unusual kilowatt-hour per day (kWh/d) per person (/p). While watts are more conventional, this unit does have some virtues in making things easily comparable and comprehensible. After all, if a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity costs me about five cents, it is easy to start thinking about the economics of an activity that requires 30 or 40 kWh/d.
Here are a few chapters that touch directly on debates that have occurred (sometimes raged) on this site:
- Cars – Technical chapter
- Air travel – Technical chapter
- Heating and cooling – Technical chapter
- Food and farming
- Can we live on renewables?
- Sustainable fossil fuels?
- Fluctuations and storage
- Energy plans for Europe, America, and the World
All the other chapters are relevant, as well, but these seem especially likely to inject some new information and thinking into long-running discussions.
The United Kingdom seems to be spoiled with people who are willing to perform comprehensive analyses of how their whole societal energy system could be rendered comparable with a stable climate (George Monbiot’s book is another example). It almost seems worth going through this entire text and re-performing the calculations with Canadian figures as inputs.
Somewhat short of that, would anyone be interested in going through the book chapter by chapter?