ENERGISE! A FUTURE FOR ENERGY INNOVATION
by James Woudhuysen & Joe Kaplinsky
This is a book that every aspiring sustainability consultant and architect with green leanings should be forced to read. Government Ministers, MPs, Local Authority officials and everyone with an interest in the environment should also read it because it takes a cold, hard look at the planet's energy needs and solutions without the usual hype.
James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky both have strong scientific backgrounds and have carried out extensive research into the subject of energy. They dispel many common myths and challenge accepted views.
Unlike most environmental analysts, they celebrate the use of energy for all the benefits it brings to civilisation. It is unusual to read, for instance, that energy consumers have no need to feel guilty - "you're not a needy greedy energy addict and you shouldn't worry about your carbon footprint." The consistent message that Energise offers the reader is that "consuming more energy isn't a problem if the right level of supply can be arranged".
At first, I thought this might have been commissioned as part of a propaganda machine to justify George W Bush's excesses but I soon realized that, actually, it takes a refreshingly pragmatic, scientific view of the use of energy in our society.
According to the authors "this book offers a radically new perspective on energy and climate change. It covers not just the technology, economics, science and politics of these two issues, but also their sociology: how people perceive energy and how they organise it. The main focus is on humanity's need for a lot more energy and a lot more innovation in energy supply."
It contains some extremely disparaging comment on the ever burgeoning Green Movement and the Government's slightly impotent attempts to enforce energy savings on us as individuals. And it is here that I have some quibbles because I still see a real need for restraint. In fact, I have to confess to reading this book on a trip to Dubai where I witnessed the full effects of unbridled, full-on, consumerism, which was enough to make me look favourably on Gordon Brown's more puritanical approach to life in the UK.
I can see no sense in wasting energy, however easy it is to produce, and the current global recession has served as a prescient reminder that the world could use a little restraint.
I was reminded of James Lovelock's statement that "for millennia, humankind has exploited the earth without counting the cost. Now, as the world warms and weather patterns dramatically change, the earth is beginning to fight back." In his book, `The Revenge of Gaia', James Lovelock, one of the great environmental thinkers of our time, argues that although global warming is now inevitable, we are not too late to save human civilization, and this approach seems to be agreed by James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky.
In chapter 3, they deal with the subject of climate change in some detail but maintain that "Mankind shouldn't lose its nerve. It has some years yet to develop a more rational energy supply." Whilst this is somewhat reassuring, I can't help thinking that I would rather play safe than gamble with our future existence on this planet.
I was therefore interested to read their approach to the various energy supply options. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they come down firmly in favour of nuclear power as a means of supplying clean low-carbon energy, again in agreement with James Lovelock who comes to the same conclusion. I note that James Woudhuysen carried out post graduate research in the political economy of nuclear energy and it is clear in this book that he has a strong grasp of the subject. He deals carefully with popular concerns about the risks attached to the production of nuclear power, the storage of spent fuels and the frightening accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Of course, these are cause for great concern but lessons have been learned and there would appear to be no other energy solution in the short term that will provide us with the power we need without damaging our climate.
We know that we cannot continue to rely so heavily on fossil fuels which generate CO2 and these issues are clearly illustrated in the chapter entitled "A New Carbon Infrastructure". It is impressive that this is right up to date with the inclusion of Barack Obama's recent policy statements including the famous one on oil in which he says "We cannot sustain a future powered by a fuel that is rapidly disappearing. Not when we purchase $700 million worth of oil every single day from some of the world's most unstable and hostile nations......"
Energise is also extremely informative on the popular issue of renewables, under their preferred title "astronomicals". As with the rest of the book, this subject has been given clear, scientific and rational evaluation which brings out some interesting points. I like the quote that "Renewable energy is limited only by humanity's political will and engineering talent to capture it." And this continues with "wind, solar, water and geothermal sources of energy have one thing in common: they're about capturing continuous flows of energy over the earth as an astronomical entity, not mining it as a stock of geological fuels!".
I was extremely interested in reading the in-depth analysis of these clean energy sources and pleased to see that they have the potential to provide us with such a high proportion of our energy needs.
In summary, I think this book provides a thorough review of the planet's energy requirements and the likely solutions for the next 50 years which will allay climate change. It's a tough read but you will feel better for having set aside the time to consider this vitally important information.
Wilkinson Eyre Architects Ltd
9 February 2009