2010, 2015, Books, Non-Fiction

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air (2010) by David J.C. MacKay

This is an excellent, detailed analysis of what we need to do to got sustainable. It is currently available online for free and I strongly recommend reading it.

MacKay translates everything into one basic unit of energy, putting every type of power and every type of energy usage on the same level. This makes it extremely easy to add everything up, to see how much we’re using and how much we need to generate. It’s the kind of book someone like me needed, because I am absolutely not going to convert units on my own. MacKay does some back-of-the-envelope math, but I agree with his reasoning. These are huge numbers we’re dealing with and rounding does not affect anything. I also appreciate how singularly focused he is on energy. If you’re looking for a book about pollution this isn’t the book for you.

MacKay’s style is accessible and there are touches of humour. But his main skill is making everything relatable, whether it’s through his use of everyday examples or through the images on the website, which help put things in perspective.

I have two major criticisms, one of which is hardly MacKay’s fault. MacKay died and the version of his book that is available online has not been updated since before his death. This means that the data is in some cases out of date. But also, whenever MacKay wades into technology, you are likely ready about something that has been improved since he last updated the book. So some of his assumptions about cost or output of certain types of green energy technologies are likely no longer reliable.

The other problem is that the book is almost entirely focused on the UK. There is one brief section which delves into North America but, as a Canadian who needs heat in the winter and really, really wants AC in the summer, I would like to know more about the costs for a country that has a less moderate climate.

Still, this is the best book I’ve read about sustainable energy and I highly recommend it, especially because you can just read it for free, whenever you have the time.


Read Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air

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