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Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate [Format Kindle]

Vaclav Smil

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There are many misconceptions about the future of global energy often presented as fact by the media, politicians, business leaders, activists, and even scientists_wasting time and money and hampering the development of progressive energy policies. Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate debunks the most common fallacies to make way for a constructive, scientific approach to the global energy challenge. When will the world run out of oil? Should nuclear energy be adopted on a larger scale? Are ethanol and wind power viable sources of energy for the future? Vaclav Smil advises the public to be wary of exaggerated claims and impossible promises. The global energy transition will be prolonged and expensive_and hinges on the development of an extensive new infrastructure. Established technologies and traditional energy sources are persistent and adaptable enough to see the world through that transition. Energy Myths and Realities brings a scientific perspective to an issue often dominated by groundless assertions, unfounded claims, and uncritical thinking. Before we can create sound energy policies for the future, we must renounce the popular myths that cloud our judgment and impede true progress.

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37 internautes sur 39 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Energy Generation: The Hard Facts Unveiled 7 septembre 2010
Par G. Poirier - Publié sur
We have often heard authoritative statements made by various reputable individuals about new ideas for producing plenty of energy in the near future - cleanly, efficiently and cheaply. These often involved new approaches combined with new scientific/technological advances of various sorts. But as the months, years and even decades pass by, we are left still waiting for these ideas, or perhaps some offshoots, to materialize. In this book, the author explains the reasons for these shortcomings and warns about any such statements that may currently being made. As the author puts it, the book is "aimed at criticizing assorted myths and misconceptions [about energy-related issues], and in doing so has mostly had to correct excessively positive or unjustifiably enthusiastic expectations and interpretation" (p. 156). Only in one case presented in the book has the opposite been done, i.e., to address a myth that is unjustifiably too negative. The myths discussed are related to: electric cars, cheap nuclear electricity, soft energy, peak oil, i.e., the so-called Hubbert's peak, sequestration of carbon dioxide, liquid fuel from plants, electricity from wind, and the pace of energy transitions. For some, this book may be an eye-opener; for others, it may confirm their suspicions. And for the enthusiasts who are, in all honesty, promoting some of these myths, the hard facts presented may be terribly discouraging.

The writing style is clear, occasionally witty, very authoritative, rather formal but also relatively accessible. The book reads like a set of scientific reports - one for each topic being addressed; consequently, one might say that the prose is often rather dry. As is standard for scientific reports, the text is dense with information, contains a great many facts and figures, has several useful diagrams and is extensively referenced. This book is likely to be most appreciated by those who are concerned about future energy production/consumption, e.g., policy makers, politicians, scientists, engineers and interested members of the public.
15 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A covert doomer? 6 novembre 2011
Par Ashtar Command - Publié sur
Vaclav Smil's "Energy myths and realities" is a relatively good and interesting book about the alternatives to fossil fuels. The author discusses electric cars, wind power, solar power, biofuels and nuclear power. In fact, he debunks them! For instance, replacing fossil fuels with biofuels would lead to massive environmental destruction, less land available for food production and perhaps even massive starvation due to increased food prices. Wind power and solar power would only work in some areas, and can never replace fossil fuels on a national or global scale. "Greens" won't like this book. Smil is also sceptical of grand schemes for carbon sequestration, however, which presumably would make his book controversial among cornucopians, as well.

The book has two shortcomings. One is that it tends to conflate technical problems and political problems. If the author is right, the problems with wind power are inherently technical, which would make this particular form of energy unrealistic no matter what. However, the problems Smil mentions in conjunction with nuclear power seem mostly political: economic downturns, curious political decisions, bureaucratic regulations and fear-mongering affecting public perception. Perhaps they are difficult to solve, but they are not unsolvable in principle. It's unclear why Smil gives nuclear power short shrift in this manner, and why he writes off breeder reactors (which, of course, work eminently well, if governments build them).

The other problem is that Smil doesn't say how the energy crisis should be solved in the first place. Since he does believe in global warming being a problem, he should be for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Yet, since he debunks all alternatives to fossil fuels, the reader is left wondering what on earth we should do next! He concedes that nuclear power might play a "modest" role in the future, but what should play the predominant role? Smil never says. Perhaps he secretly supports oil, coal and gas?

Still, the book did make me think. For a long time, I assumed that we can replace both fossil fuels and nuclear power with solar, wind, hydro, biofuels, recycled garbage and some rather exotic alternatives ("wave power" etc). And, of course, energy conservation. Of these, only hydro is controversial in "Green" circles. However, if Smil is right, most of these "alternatives" cannot meet present or future demand, and the only one that perhaps could do it (biofuel) is undesirable. The search for renewable energy would then be a wild goose chase - or worse. However, if climate change is real, then fossil fuels need to be phased out anyway! This means that our predicament is much worse than expected.

Perhaps there are some solutions. Robert Bryce proposes in his books that massive investments in nuclear power and natural gas might save us. Even some Greens, such as James Lovelock, call for an expansion of nuclear power. Let's hope they are right! If not, we're left with the scary scenario of James Howard Kunstler in "The Long Emergency". Kunstler actually accepts many of Smil's points, and precisely for *that* reason believes that civilization is doomed to collapse.

Well, I suppose we could always keep our recycled garbage...

[This review was revised on 26 Sep, 2012]
4 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Lots of Facts - like a typical Smil Book 1 avril 2014
Par Patrick L. Boyle - Publié sur
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
This was probably an easy book for Smil to write because the popular press, the Internet, and cable news are so irresponsible. Almost all the so called environmentalists that one reads are technically uninformed. They don't understand math or science. They get carried away with their own wishful thinking.

Many of my neighbors for example drive Priuses. They don't seem to realize that almost without exception domestic economy cars are four cylinder internal combustion engines. Most are gasoline four stroke Otto cycle engines and some are diesels. The Prius is no exception. A better name for the power delivery system in a Prius is 'electric transmission'. That's an alternative and less deceptive name. The power for a Prius comes from its small four cylinder gas engine. The electrical-battery systems don't create power they just transmit it.

Some environmentalists long for a 'pure' electric car so as to be free of hydrocarbons altogether. But of course the electrical power they use comes from the burning of coal (mostly).

So called hybrids made no sense at all with lead acid batteries. They only work today because of more efficient lithium-ion batteries. Ed Begley Jr. the Hollywood actor started a whole conspiracy theory because he didn't understand batteries. He blamed the early experimental GM hybrid's failure on corporate greed when those cars were simply too heavy because of their lead acid batteries. Now environmentalists demand better batteries than lithium ion ones. They don't seem to realize that there never may be such batteries. Lithium Ion batteries may be the limit. Who knows? Environmentalists just imagine technology they don't understand it.

Much the same story is also the case with photovoltaics. Environmentalists just assume that cheap efficient solar cells will soon be invented. That could come true of course, but it isn't true now. When something doesn't come true environmentalists tend to blame some engineer for being stupid of some industrialist for being a greedy conspirator. They never seem to consider that maybe they themselves have some obligation to understand the issues.

In fact America has been very successful in managing our environment - but you would never guess that from the media. Air pollution is way down and water quality is nearly perfect. At least that's true where I live. Two generations ago Tom Lehrer had a hit satirical song called 'Pollution'. Much of what he sang about then was true. But it isn't true today. We solved most of our pollution problems thirty or more years ago. Today we can indeed 'drink the water and breathe the air'. How odd that some want to imagine that we failed.

Smil points to many of the failed environmental initiatives. Kennedy made it a national goal to go to the moon - and we did so. Nixon made it a national goal to eliminate our use of imported oil - and he failed. But nearly every other president since has also made that a goal and all have failed. Smil explains why.
4 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An authentic analysis of sustainable energy, for open minded and ecologically concerned readers 7 décembre 2013
Par Chad M - Publié sur
This is a source no-nonsense answers about conventional and sustainable energy. I consider this book a welcome respite from the greenwashing that is happening too often both in academic writing and in the wider world. Prof. Smil's analysis is impeccable, and the reader can cross-reference topics in this book from its extensively documented sources.

Topics such as energy output per square meter of acreage is a perennial topic in Prof. Smil's, and a good way to compare solar and wind resources with nuclear energy. Prof. Smil pioneered this particular comparison method, now followed by many authors, including Robert Bryce in "Power Hungry." The severe problems with biomass and biofuel energies are also resolved in this book, hopefully not too late for the Indonesian rainforest and other rainforests. The facts in this book -- if known and respected decades ago -- could have averted some ecological boondoggles.

I appreciate the candor that Prof. Smil delivers. In addition, the ongoing and growing need for conservation is well-argued by Prof. Smil in this book and in the film "Surviving Progress," in which he appears. For sustainable energy answers that are probably as non-partisan as humanly possible, this book and the author's other ones are a treasure trove of knowledge.
40 internautes sur 59 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Odd 21 décembre 2010
Par toronto - Publié sur
Smil is a complete genius -- I have six of his books (where does he find the time?) -- but this one is a disappointment. The best part of the book (like the others) is that he is able to marshall a vast amount of fact just when you need it in a discussion in a pointed way: a gold mine. It is also good that he skewers a lot of sacred cows: the Hypercar is only one!. It is interesting that the book is published by the American Enterprise Institute and has blurbs on it about the free market, whereas the book says nothing about the glories of the free market. Perhaps they just liked the part about peak oil taking longer to peak than ecowisdom has it. It is hardly, for example, a screed for nuclear power (he points out the difficulties of a nuclear renaissance and the absurdity of expecting it to save the world). Further, if Smil was in cahoots with the oil and coal world, his chapter debunking carbon capture and storage would hardly have been written. The conservative part of the book is, naturally enough, how slow things are to change in energy use: Smil doesn't really say whether this is a good thing or not; it is just how things are.

I would argue that he seriously underplays the prospects for energy conservation in tandem with strong leadership setting goals and frames in a deliberate move towards overall social transformation for the planetary good (and personal wellbeing). The final message of the book is horribly bleak, which the author (and publishers) seem not to notice. If Smil is right, then the lag times between now and the solution are so long that the planet is essentially cooked. He says nothing about this, just ends.

The fatal flaw in the book is the assumption that human beings and societies are incapable of radical change. Historically, this is untrue. We have Islam and the Russian Revolution as excellent examples of the world changed on a dime when the time is ripe. This can happen with energy: but it will require leadership and crisis and an ethical shift -- all three at once. Anything short of that (Smil is right here) will have so much inertia to fight against that it won't be able to do the job. But it is possible. Certainly the market won't do it -- at least it might if there was a free market, but there hasn't been one for two hundred years, and there won't be one any time soon. The fossil fuel barons who own the governments and institutions wouldn't let that happen. There is too much money and power at stake for anything to be left to something as fickle as the market. Someone might inform the American Enterprise Institute about that, if they have a moment.
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