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Hydrogen Economy Paperback – 6 Jan 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Jeremy P Tarcher; New Ed edition (6 Jan. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585422541
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585422548
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2 x 22.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 737,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Rifkin, who is an influential writer and lecturer at a major American business school, has produced a very readable book with an important message. It deserves to be studied in governments, in the boardrooms of business and, more important, by the citizens of the world – for it is up to them to plan their destiny within realistic options. In short, it speaks of nothing less than the survival of the species." Times Higher Education Supplement --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

In The Hydrogen Economy, best–selling author Jeremy Rifkin takes us on an eye–opening journey into the next great commercial era in history. He envisions the dawn of a new economy powered by hydrogen that will fundamentally change the nature of our market, political and social institutions, just as coal and steam power did at the beginning of the industrial age.

Rifkin observes that we are fast approaching a critical watershed for the fossil–fuel era, with potentially dire consequences for industrial civilization. Experts had been saying that we had another forty or so years of cheap available crude oil left. Now, however, some of the world s leading petroleum geologists are suggesting that global oil production could peak and begin a steep decline much sooner, as early as the end of this decade, sending oil prices through the roof.

While the fossil fuel era is entering its sunset years, a new energy regime is being born that has the potential to remake civilization. Hydrogen is the most basic and ubiquitous element in the universe. It is the stuff of the stars and of our sun and, when properly harnessed, it is the forever fuel. It never runs out and produces no harmful CO2 emissions. Commercial fuel–cells powered by hydrogen are just now being introduced into the market for home, office and industrial use. The major automakers have spent more than two billion dollars developing hydrogen cars, buses, and trucks, and the first mass–produced vehicles are expected to be on the road in just a few years.

In the new era, says Rifkin, every human being could become the producer as well as the consumer of his or her own energy so called distributed generation. When millions of end–users connect their fuel–cells into local, regional, and national hydrogen energy webs (HEWs), using the same design principles and smart technologies that made possible the World Wide Web, they can begin to share energy peer–to–peer creating a new decentralized form of energy use.

Hydrogen has the potential to end the world s reliance on imported oil and help diffuse the dangerous geopolitical game being played out between Muslim militants and Western nations. It will dramatically cut down on carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming. And because hydrogen is so plentiful and exists everywhere on earth, every human being could be empowered, making it the first truly democratic energy regime in history.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Throughout history, human beings have occasionally found themselves caught between two very different ways of perceiving reality. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By "gr00mer" on 12 Jan. 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was looking forward to reading about hydrogen technologies and how they are likely to change the world in coming years. I had already read extensively, particularly Amory Lovins' works, on the potential for energy efficiency and the takeup of new technologies. Image then how disappointed I am to have been presented a perspective that repeats existing factual errors and leaves the reader with an enormous question. Much of the context setting is based on predicted rises in demand that have been refuted elsewhere, e.g. stating that the typical PC uses 1,500Watts of power (when the reality is more like 20% of that figure) and that the level of demand growth from the Internet, i.e. based on the 1.5kW figure, will exacerbate an already precarious situation. There is also an assumption that energy demand in the developing and newly-industrialised countres will follow the pattern set over the last fifty years in the west - the reality is that many of those countries are leapfrogging over the industrial nations by taking up state-of-the-art energy-efficient technologies in order to secure competitive advantages.
The book makes passing reference to the Lovins' work but then fails to pursue the radical energy efficiency agenda that is the cornerstone of that work. Readers would do well to read Natural Capitalism for a fuller explaination of this area.
Rifkin also relies heavily on current world events insofar as his analysis of world faiths goes. I suspect that there are people in most, if not all, faiths who would reject Rifkin's hypothesis that Islam is the only faith that represents a whole way of life. However, removing that strand of arguement would undermine a key chapter of the book.
Rifkin states that everyone will become an autonomous supplier of fuel in this new age.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 28 July 2003
Format: Paperback
Although titled the hydrogen economy the bulk of the book is about fossil based energy. This is a 9 chapter book and it doesn't start talking about "the hydrogen economy" until chapter 8. It has something interesting points about oil reserves and the macro economic effects, but this isn't what I was after in a book titled "the hydrogen economy".
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback
Or a new shell game?

The title of this book is a little misleading since most of the book is about the effect that energy has had on the rise and fall of human societies from hunter-gatherers through agriculturists and the Roman Empire to the ascendency of the United States in the 19th century and into the current world economy. Rifkin sees cheap energy and the high per capita use of it as a prime indicator of a flourishing society. He notes that Rome rose when it was able to commandeer energy sources from conquered lands in the form of tribute and slaves; but when the booty from military conquests began to fall to diminishing returns, Rome itself began to fall.

He sees the same thing possibly happening to the United States in another but similar manner. He notes that US domestic oil production peaked in 1970. (p. 4) Whereas up until then, domestic production supplied most of the oil the United States used; since then we have become more and more dependent on foreign sources. He foresees a peak in world crude production sometime in the next decade or so, and after that a slide toward more and more expensive oil and more and more of our wealth flowing into the last bastion of crude reserves in primarily the Middle Eastern states.

What to do about this? Hocus-pocus, usher in the hydrogen economy in which hydrogen fuel cells will replace not only gas from the pump but will generate electricity for home, farm and office. There is just one little catch: at current prices the cost of converting either gasoline, natural gas or water (all requiring energy, usually electrical power) is prohibitive. Rifkin de-emphasizes this little problem as he enthuses about how decentralized and how clean-burning will be the "decarbonized" hydrogen economy.
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5 of 30 people found the following review helpful By "chbg218083" on 31 Oct. 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is essentially a tirade against man as a reasoning being. It is an ugly tract that glosses itself with the window dressing of reason. But strip back the layers and you grasp the full underlying meaning of Rifkin's text
Rifkin is essentially an anti-man, anti-success life hating environmentalist and thus wherever he sees success or progress he attacks it, no matter how beneficial such technology would be.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 31 reviews
59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
The Hydrogen Economy - Hard facts 13 Jan. 2004
By Mario Baldassarrini - Published on
Format: Paperback
Jeremiah Rifkin's book "The Hydrogen Economy" does not give what its title promises.
Most of the book is devoted to historical, political, social considerations, most of which I find well written and even convincing, but which have nothing to do with hydrogen.
However, to me as an engineer, his recourse to thermodynamics to explain the fall of past civilizations appears ludicrous and unnecessary - there is no need to appeal to thermodynamics to make us understand that our world will collapse if it will run short of reasonably cheap energy.
Whether the production of liquid fuels and natural gas will peak within the time frames advocated by Rifkin, or at some other time, there is no doubt in my mind that it will peak, and that well before that time the world must start to convert to renewable energies (assuming that energy from nuclear fusion is still far away from being harnessed).
However Rifkin sees everything easy and cheap. In his chapter on Reglobalization from the Bottom up he advocates the installation of fuel cells in every household or neighbourhood or community, but he seems to forget that "upstream" of each fuel cell there must be a power generator (wind turbine or photo-voltaic cell), electrolytic cells to produce hydrogen and a hydrogen storage facility. Scale economies will certainly reduce the cost of these commodities, but in my mind it is difficult to think that with their combined cost, and the energy losses that will be incurred at each step (electricity to hydrogen gas, hydrogen gas to stored hydrogen, hydrogen to electricity) electricity generation will be cheaper than present day cost from fuel or gas fired power plants.
Also the numbers are staggering. Rifkin writes "Providing these 100 million (per year) new users with an average per capita consumption of electricity equivalent to what US consumers enjoyed in 195 would require the creation of 10 million megawatts of new electricity capacity globally by 2005". Should this capacity have to be provided entirely by renewable sources, as a rough order of magnitude this would require the installation of either:
- From 300 to 500 million 300 KW capacity wind turbines, or
- from 1 to 1.5 million square kilometres of photovoltaic cells
All the above seems to me quite sobering. Particularly the shift to renewable energy sources does not give many hopes to be a way "to lift billions of people out of poverty". Therefore I cannot be as optimistic as Rifkin does - however I share with him the conviction that the shift to these sources is inevitable, and that the world must brace itself to meet the challenges and sacrifices that it will entail. The sooner, the better.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding, except the part about the hydrogen economy... 28 Aug. 2003
By David J. Segal, Ph.D. - Published on
Format: Paperback
I thought this book was excellent and that everyone should read it. I found Rifkin�s arguments about the role of energy in the rise and fall of civilizations and the thermodynamics of Rome to be extremely interesting and thought provoking. Also, anyone interested in a very readable yet detailed overview of the whole fossil fuel picture � its history, future potential, and global impact on politics, humanity, and the environment � would find this book enjoyable. These parts alone make the book worth buying. However, his eventual discussion about the hydrogen economy seems like it was written late at night after a few beers. In comparison with the very analytical earlier sections, he provides only a �warm and fuzzy� vision of a hydrogen future. Three specific criticisms I had were: 1) Although he uses words like �hydrogen� and �fuel cell� a lot, Rifkin�s vision really depends on the use of renewable energy technologies. And since most people don�t live near a thermal vent or can easily dam a river, the fundamental question is whether solar and wind power can provide enough power to meet the high energy demands of 10 billion people. This issue was not addressed. 2) Although he makes a compelling and analytical argument against oil alternatives such as natural gas, coal, and tar sand, the potential role of nuclear power seems to have slipped his mind completely. This is a rather large omission, considering several European countries get more than two-thirds of their electricity form nuclear sources. This should have been a chapter, but was instead not discussed at all. 3) It is not clear that the costs and technical expertise required to build and maintain a distributed energy production network would be more efficient than having several elite companies manage mega-fuel cell facilities. Again, a little more analysis would help convince me that a global democratization of energy is actually possible. In summary, the weakness of the current energy regime is explained well, but one is left wondering if the bright and happy picture of the hydrogen economy that is presented is more than just a house of cards.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Too little discussion about hydrogen production 24 Nov. 2003
By Denis O'Sullivan - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book does a great job of defining the energy dilemma especially the upcoming "Peak Oil" issues. It also does a great job of providing a historical context of our energy usage patterns, showing how energy use is intimately tied to material progress.
The uses of hydrogen as a fuel and its effectiveness is defined well.
So what is wrong?
Well, most people who have even taken high school chemistry have a passing acquaintance wiht hydrogen, its cleanliness and its simplicity. So, this is not a great strength in my opinion.
The real problem is Rifkin does not define how hydrogen can be produced or distributed efficiently, and without that, there is no real hydrogen vision at all. He uses a scant 8 pages to define alternatives for generation of hydrogen for instance. Yet, this is the essential mystery, and he does not resolve it! If hydrogen just becomes an energy transfer medium, like electricity, then it does nothing to resolve the scarcity or environmental problems of fossil fuels. I also found Rifkin's uses of some units of measurement showed him to be an amateur. Several times he mixed up units of work with power, a common enough error, but a dead giveaway against someone who purports to be an energy expert.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
More like "The History of the Oil Industry" 2 Sept. 2003
By David McMillan - Published on
Format: Paperback
I bought this book based mainly on the title and the brief description of the book on the cover. It's a good book, but I think it would be more accurate to name the book "The History of the Oil Industry, and some stuff at the end about hydrogen". I guess I should have browsed through it more before I bought it, but the book doesn't really begin to focus on hydrogen (as opposed to oil) until the last two chapters.
My other complaint about the book is that it tries to explain very complex world issues/events in very simple cause/effect terms. While I agree that future of the oil industry will be closely intertwined with the various religions and cultures of the Middle East, it's a bit of a stretch for a book that is supposed to be about hydrogen to start *explaining* world religions and Middle Eastern social structures.
It also basically concludes that Rome fell because it couldn't support its energy needs. OK, that could have been one of the causes, but it's a lot trickier than that.
It seems to be a well-researched book, but if you're just looking for information about "The Hydrogen Economy", skip to the last two chapters.
56 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Simply Awful - How Does this Guy Get to Keep Writing Books? 8 Dec. 2005
By Dianne Roberts - Published on
Format: Paperback
I put this book down probably quicker than any other book I can think of in recent memory. It's simply awful.

I can't agree with even the paltry 2 or 3 star reviews who say that the first half of the book was good, but that it misses the point (as well as basic physics, thermodynamics, economics, . . . etc.)

Even the first half of this book is awful. The first chapter was the first sign that you're in trouble. It basically just lists a bunch of "stuff" that's going on: Globalization, Protesters in the streets against it, Telecommunications, Biotech, and . . . err . . . oh yeah, let's not forget 9/11 . . . and . . . Barbara Streisand isn't as good as she used to be, blah, blah, blah. I guess this is supposed to count for serious analysis because after just listing a bunch of trends he decries how there's been no serious analysis about Globalization. (Does this guy live under a rock!?!? Maybe an ivy covered one at Wharton where he apparently teaches . . . note to self: Don't get accepted to Wharton.) The rest of the first chapter describes the oil industry in terms starker than Orwell described Big Brother. But don't despair! The Hydrogen Energy Web will save us all! It will be like what the internet was for communications but for like energy or something like that, and it will destroy the evil oil companies, and it'll make everyone rich, we'll all be able to move back to countryside (I'm serious, he's basically claiming that), it will lay golden eggs, make your first born smarter and prettier, make your hair grow back, etc. Where will get the hydrogen? Oh it comes from stars or something, it's the most abundant element in the universe! OK, who will set up this web? (I'm not kidding here, again) Well, big corporations stole the internet before VOLUNTEER GROUPS could set it up, so we'll have VOLUNTEER GROUPS create the hydrogen energy web this time around. Oh, err, big companies will still be needed to, like, make all the hardware, and all the software (he actually concedes this point in a dismissive sentence), will be needed to send people out to fix any problems, to coordinate it, to, well, actually build it, but somehow it will be made by volunteer groups anyway and big companies won't really be a part of it. Even though they will be. But they won't. LOOK OVER THERE! A giant ball of oil company induced global warming is heading straight for us!!!

The second chapter is even better. He complains about how many classifications of oil reserves there are. With completely non-sensical names like "identified reserves", "non-identified reserves", and whatnot (boo-hoo, boo-hoo, there's just soooo many of them) he concludes that they can only have been created to confuse people so that the big oil executives and politicians can manipulate, confuse, and deceive the stupid masses into believing something or another about oil. (I was never quite certain what that was supposed to be. Oh well.) But not Mr. Rifkin! He's beaten them. He's defined "conventional oil" all himself, which excludes all oil that has been found but is currently uneconomical to extract and sell, all oil in polar regions, and all oil underneath the oceans. He does this to prove that we're running out of oil, and that the big oil companies are cooking the books. Tonight I'm going eat "conventional food" which will exclude all food in two thirds of the Kitchen, and all food in, say, the Living Room, to prove to my family that we're all going to starve to death. Don't tell me I'm wrong son! You're cooking the books!! Don't you see we're all going to DIE!

This book is not only awful, it's duplicitous. One of the few mentions of nuclear power is to say in two sentences basically: Utilities put a lot money into nuclear in the '60's and '70's. In the '80's the utilities made the consumer bear the brunt of a lot cost overruns and power plant shutdowns. The idea is to imply that nuclear power was a giant failure with a bunch of cost overruns and power plants that couldn't keep running. Both sentences might be technically true (because there's no mention of nuclear power in the second), but they're crafted to make you imply a conclusion without any specific evidence or argument.

Let's be clear: This book is a political diatribe. Big oil bad, Hydrogen good because it will do all these wonderful things. How will it do all these wonderful things? Some unconvincing arguments, red herrings, and incomplete and inconclusive examples and complete hypotheticals.

One of the biggest flaws is how it handles (or, more accurately, fails to) where hydrogen will come from, since it is not a primary energy source the way oil, coal, or nuclear is. It will take more energy to extract hydrogen from either natural gas or water than we will ever be able to get from the extracted hydrogen, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics. This is the critical question of what will replace oil, period, and only four pages are dedicated to it. The author's answer is solar. His argument for solar? Well, basically, solars's getting cheaper. That's not a complete argument! Is it FEASIBLE to power the world off solar? To power the United States off solar today would require a solar array the size of a small state! And you'd have to make another state size solar array to handle the growth in energy demand. God forbid the sun not shine one day. (Or maybe we'll have to invade the Middle East still because they have like 364 sunny days a year over there, leaving us at the mercy of the islamist anyway. Norway will probably invade Southern California too.) Solar by itself is getting cheaper, great, what about it's cost RELATIVE to other sources? There's zero discussion about using coal, or nuclear to power electrolysis of hydrogen.

This book is mostly a political posture. He puts forward a fantasy political vision, and tries to scare you into thinking it's the only thing that will save us from impending doom with some false techno-babble in lieu of any actual coherent plan or argument.

There are only two possible ways this book could help solve energy problems. One, you could burn it instead of heating oil this winter. Or two, if some magical invention could tap into all the hot air this author blows out his pipe we could use it to turn a turbine. Probably forever. I'm hoping for this latter option, but planning on the first.
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