David MacKay’s Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air is a remarkably engaging book; it has certainly kicked off and contributed to some very energetic discussions here. The book, which was written by a physics professor at Cambridge and is available for free online, is essentially a detailed numerical consideration of renewable forms of power generation, as well as technologies to support it, and to reduce total power demand. MacKay concludes that the effort required to produce sustainable energy systems is enormous, and that one of the most viable options is to build huge solar facilities in the world’s deserts, and use that to provide an acceptable amount of energy to everyone.
The book has a physics and engineering perspective, rather than one focused on politics or business. MacKay considers the limits of what is physically possible, given the character of the world and the physical laws that govern it. Given that he does not take economics into consideration much, his conclusions demonstrate the high water mark of what is possible, with unlimited funds. In the real world, renewable deployment will be even more challenging than it is in his physics-only model.
Here are some of the posts in which the book has already been discussed:
- David MacKay’s sustainable energy calculations
- A renewable energy plan for the UK
- Carnot efficiency
- Increasing renewable capacity is much harder than increasing energy consumption
I have added relevant information from the book to the comment sections of a great many other posts, on everything from wind power to biofuels.
Even if you don’t agree with MacKay’s analysis, reading his book will provide some useful figures, graphs, and equations, as well as prompt a lot of thought. It is certainly one of the books that I would recommend most forcefully to policy makers, analysts, politicians, and those interested in deepening their understanding of what a sustainable energy future would involve.