Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Posts Tagged ‘education

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air

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Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air is a popular book written by David J.C. MacKay, who is Professor of Natural Philosophy in the department of physics at the University of Cambridge. It’s currently available for download, but it is still at the draft stage.

Read some of this – isn’t it great! I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but it really looks impressive to me, it’s saying the things that I really think need to be said.

How can we replace fossil fuels? How can we ensure security of energy supply? How can we solve climate change?

We’re often told that ‘huge amounts of renewable power are available’ – wind, wave, tide, and so forth. But our current power consumption is also huge! To understand our sustainable energy crisis, we need to
know how the one ‘huge’ compares with the other. We need numbers, not adjectives.

This heated debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates, people just say “Nuclear is a money pit” or “We have a huge amount of wave and wind.” The trouble with this sort of language is that it’s not sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one ‘huge’ compares with another ‘huge’, namely our huge energy consumption. To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives.

“I’m not trying to be pro-nuclear. I’m just pro-arithmetic.”


Written by Luke Weston

June 26, 2008 at 2:45 pm