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Power to the People: How the Coming Energy Revolution Will Transform Our Lives, Turn the Energy Business Upside down, and Perhaps Even Save Our Planet [Hardcover]

Vijay Vaitheeswaran

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Book Description

25 Mar 2003
Climate change, power failures, tanker spills and energy wars: our profligate ways have doomed us to suffer such tragedies, right? Perhaps, but Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, the environment and energy correspondent for The Economist sees great opportunity in the energy realm and Power to the People is his fiercely independent and irresistibly entertaining look at the economic, political and technological forces that are reshaping the world's management of energy resources. In it, he documents an energy revolution already underway and exposes both the enormous risks to humanity and planet Earth and the massive opportunities and rewards afforded by our insatiable hunger for energy. From the corporate boardroom of a Texas oil titan who denies the reality of global warming to the Rocky Mountain Institute where visionary Amory Lovins is developing hydrogen fuel-cell technology that could make the internal combustion engine obsolete, Vaitheeswaran gamely pursues the people who hold the keys to our future. It is clear that the quest for energy is insatiable. Yet it is also essential. By avoiding the traditional divide that pits free marketers against the wisdom of conservation and the need for clean energy, Power to the People debunks myths without debunking hope.
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc; 1 edition (25 Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374236755
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374236755
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.3 x 3.1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,473,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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As good a manifesto for the new energy world as you will find' Fred Pearce, New Scientist 'Vaitheeswaran's book is by far the most helpful, entertaining, up-to-date and accessible treatment of the energy-economy-environment problematique available' Scientific American 'Debunk[s] some of the 'truisms' currently spouted on both the left and the right� [Vaitheeswaran's] lucid and entertaining book is informative and insightful' Publishers Weekly 'Offers a balance of international viewpoints from industry, environmental groups, politicians, regulators, and 'visionaries'...Readers wanting a change from the gloom and doom of some environmental writing will appreciate this work' Library Journal 'In the easy, fluent style that makes Vijay Vaitheeswaran so readable in The Economist, Power to the People examines the energy future, including the prospects for fossil fuels, with a calm rationality that will surely command the respect of people across the political spectrum. It does so in a spirit of optimism that doesn't prescribe a disruptive trade-off between preserving our environment and providing enough energy for continuing human progress' BP Chief Executive Lord Browne of Madingley 'Well reasoned, insightful and tempered. At a time when the whole world is increasingly worried about our energy future, Vaitheeswaran takes us on an engaging, and ultimately hopeful, exploratory journey, investigating the many choices that lie ahead' Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Hydrogen Economy 'Whether you are a pessimist, a sceptic or an optimist, Power to the People will challenge your assumptions without offering simplistic answers' Achim Steiner, IUCN - The World Conservation Union 'In a crucial area of public discourse that is too often dominated by flamethrowers from either side of the political spectrum, Power to the People provides a welcome relief: a balanced assessment of where we are, how we got here and where our actions today may be taking us in the years ahead' Robert N. Stavins, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran is an award-winning journalist and The Economist?s environment and energy correspondent, covering developments in politics, economics, business and technology as they relate to energy issues. Born in Madras, India, he grew up in the United States and graduated from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering. He currently lives in New York. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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IMAGINE A WORLD in which power flows not from on high, but from the masses. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Energy is more interesting than you think. 23 Oct 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Energy is one of those subjects that you don't think about until you have to.
Until that lousy day last summer.
As a technology guy, I've always been somewhat intrigued with the idea of networks (like Distributed / grid computing). So I was intrigued when I heard the author this summer speak about his "energy grid" (which he calls it the Energy Internet). Granted his terminology seemed a little....1990s, but his point made sense: if we were all sharing off the same energy grid, the market would reward those who used less energy and extract from those who use more. And like the internet, the "energy internet" can reroute itself around a problem. (Take that, Ohio!)
What I loved most about this book is that it's not aimed at granola crunchy people. It's also not aimed at the NPR / anti-SUV crowd. I think It's written for the "armchair skeptic" like myself. I'm not stupid enough to think that BP wants to save the world. But I think those ads are meant to influence how we think about energy providers.
We all know that many of the real energy costs aren't being addressed in today's pump prices-- the environment, Enron, Iraq, etc. But the author explains that it's because the real market price ISN'T being represented that we're in such a sorry state. Well, lots of right-wing books contain the "market will solve all of our problems" premise and I would have expected as much from someone who writes for the Economist. But this book doesn't always give the answers that you'd expect. In fact, it was pretty harsh on a few companies who would have probably liked to use him as a poster boy.
Granted, his book title makes it seem like Energy will solve many of the world's problems-- that's just the title. But i'm pretty impressed how well he supported his "save the planet" / environmental stance-- it seemed a bit far-fetched at first. But what he's really talking about is pollution credits and developed / developing world stuff. With India and China's rapid economic growth, the environment took a big hit and it affects all of us.
If I have a small complaint about the book, it's that the author sometimes seems a little too "rah rah" about the "new revolution". (the book title alone makes me cringe a bit). I don't disagree that cheap and efficient hydrogen energy may change the world, I just think that real revolutions are fairly incremental intially and we only realize how incredible they are after we start to reap the benefits. Proclaiming the energy "revolution" and talking about the "energy internet" may have gotten people excited in the New Economy, but we're in the Old New Economy now.
I give this book 5 stars because I'm not the kind of person who would read books on energy and I actually enjoyed it.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sure Is Sunny In Here 3 Jun 2004
By doomsdayer520 - Published on Amazon.com
For an overview of up-and-coming sources of energy for the new millennium you can't do much better than this book, but beware of its very optimistic and not always realistic examinations of the politics and economics of energy. As a policy expert, Vaitheeswaran certainly has keen insights into what is going on in energy today, from actual vs. perceived shortages in fossil fuels to the latest cutting-edge research into new technologies such as fuel cells. Here you will get great insights into how the current market works, with some in-depth debunking of popular assumptions concerning issues like the California crisis in 2000-01, or the true political machinations and motivations of OPEC. Vaitheeswaran ably documents how humans will continue to have access to reliable energy, in whatever form, and that world society is hardly on the brink of a major catastrophic shortage.
However, this book loses steam significantly when Vaitheeswaran starts to analyze the possible political and economic tools that will be necessary to keep the future energy market healthy. Basically, he is dangerously close to the dogma of the free market and free trade as the cure for all ills. Yes, as Americans we know that intelligently managed markets are essential. However, after fruitfully explaining how current energy markets are distorted by cronyism, tax breaks, subsidies, corporate welfare, and other inequitable political shenanigans, the possibility of such distortions is strangely missing from Vaitheeswaran's analyses of future trends. It's as if the free market, once allowed to roll, would suddenly create a perfect world devoid of human corruption, and not just in market-savvy America. This is the unrealistic message overall - a corrupt present shall be replaced by an unrealistic free market utopia around the world. And generally, in attempting to cover all sides of these issues from the point of view of everyone from radical environmentalists to fossil fuel plutocrats, Vaitheeswaran ultimately fails to land squarely in any camp, which saps the power from many of his conclusions. While much of this book is quite useful in describing exciting new technologies, sunny optimism often blinds the reader from dirtier realities. [~doomsdayer520~]
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A free-market view of the energy problem 8 Feb 2004
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Vaitheeswaran writes for the Economist. The good news is that his journalistic account of the energy problem is breezy and easy to read. The bad news is that it is not so much an objective overview of the topic as it is a religious tract from the Church of the Free Market. Vaitheeswaran really pulls you into his optimistic account at times, but regularly slips in sarcastic digs at environmentalists and ecologists that remind you of his ideological bias. What really caused me to question his analysis, though, was his total dismissal of the oil geologists. I personally put much more stock in the projections of the geologists, following Hubbert, than I do in the economists, who always bring to mind Richard Feynman's skeptical view that economics & other social sciences are all voodoo.

I give this book a favorable review regardless, because it is a good introduction to a particular point of view. Without being a market dogmatist, I think Vaitheeswaran has sound points to make about the failure of energy deregulation in California, for instance. He reveals that Britain and Scandinavia (of all places!) have pursued energy deregulation with great success, and argues that it was not deregulation per se that failed, but rather a botched attempt. The first four chapters address "market forces." Vaitheeswaran makes the case that global warming is real and calls for a shift away from carbon-based fossil fuels in the second three chapters. Here, he takes a strong position in favor of carbon taxes, which will not endear him to the anti-tax Republicans, and reveals that his view, while pro-market, is more sensible than most acceptable debate in the U.S. (I do wonder, though, whether he and his editors have read much by Herman Daly and the other ecological economists, who include basic physics in their equations?)

When it comes to the last four chapters on energy technology, Vaitheeswaran has some very interesting things to say, based on his access to the corporate boardrooms. I am encouraged by the shift of Shell and BP (British Petroleum) toward renewable energy research, and no doubt the U.S. oil companies will reluctantly follow suit. The possibility of a decentralized power system, with inputs from local fuel cells, is quite astounding, and it carries some weight coming from the Economist.

I am by no means convinced that the "magic of the market" will bring the world a happy ending to the problem of the finite reserves of oil and natural gas, which are approaching their global Hubbert's Peak. But if markets and far-sighted corporations can be part of the solution, that's great. If we could bring the European view of markets, incorporating carbon taxes, or green taxes, to the U.S. that would be a big step in the right direction!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing: 4 Feb 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I bought the book hoping to get a book filled with serious and reliable facts catered in a manner, which was portrayed by reviewers as highly entertaining and educational. Instead the book presents well-known facts and rehashes numerous assumptions, which were either proven wrong by other authors or caused other scientists to arrive at entirely different conclusion. The author should know better. I give the author credit of trying to convey an upbeat message that the human spirit and economic forces will prevail in "saving the planet".
I appreciate the authors respect when speaking about our political leaders and his objection about ideological bashing of corporations and politicians. The author however turns around and ridicules groups of oil experts and calls them a "gang" which advocates that the undiminished availability of oil is a stake in the very foreseeable future. The author himself does not discuss the issue of oil depletion other than saying "if true" it would cause a very serious problem. With his background in engineering the author should have reviewed and discussed, in earnest, the work by the experts he ridicules and such experts as Hubbert, Simmons, Goodstein, etc.. The author should know that even respectable industry leaders and scientists with high credential present the oil depletion issue in a more rational way - instead he suggests only one source which comes from the same academic background as he does.
There are a lot of books published at this time, which address the issue of the energy future in a better and more concise way. The reader who wants to be educated more than entertained might look for another book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Energetic Tour of a Huge Topic 6 Jan 2004
By David R. Harper - Published on Amazon.com
I read this book because I wanted an introduction to energy issues and because Vaitheeswaran writes for The Economist, my favorite news periodical. I loved it. The author conducts a fact-filled tour of old energy (oil), new energy (hydrogen) and many of the characters, companies and countries working in the biggest industry of them all. If you like the journalistic style of The Economist, then you will surely enjoy this book. It is densely factual, tempered in presentation, and very credible. As a bonus, unlike the Economist (which doesn't seem to promote individual journalists), the author introduces himself into the story on precious few occasions and it's usually in a hilarious and self-deprecating way; e.g., one day while visiting Los Angeles, he keeps missing appointments because his electric vehicle can't keep a charge.
The book is perceived as optimistic because the author hopes that liberalized markets (first section) combined with environmentalism (second section) will promote technologies (third section) that inexorably but gradually shift us from carbon-based fossil fuels to cleaner, more efficient fuels. And he's placing his bets on a portable hydrogen fuel cell that can plug into both your house and your car, and whose only byproduct is water vapor.
But the author does not euphorically see this future as necessarily destiny; you just know the publisher slapped the marketing sub-title on the cover. If entrepreneurial technologists are the heroes of his drama, then governments are the closest thing to villains. In the case of markets, he shows that California's failed electricity experiment was the wrong kind of deregulation (because regulators unwisely capped retail rates and saddled consumers and new entrants with the cost of so-called stranded investments). He reminds us that competitive markets require a "vigilant regulator and proper price signals" (i.e., deregulation does not mean "no regulation"). In the case of environment, the author seems more worried. He makes a case that global warming is a real issue worthy of action. After he expertly presents the facts (e.g., concentrations of CO2 are increasing), he concludes with a historical parallel-concerning climate phenomenon that are not fully understood but potentially devastating-that is positively chilling: new scientific evidence now shows that we previously underestimated the effects of ozone layer depletion, and if not for the flexible Montreal protocol signed almost two decades ago, the effects would have been much deadlier. Here again, interestingly, he sees myopic politics as the culprit (as global warming is a reverse public good without current, individual constituents) and prefers to put his faith in market economics. He claims that truly free markets will somehow tend to promote more efficient, less polluting companies.
The technology section is, believe it or not, entertaining. I doubt he can satisfy everybody here and I am not qualified to question his virtual neglect of solar power and his uncharacteristically decisive, cynical verdict concerning the future of nuclear power. His big theme for the future is "small is beautiful"-specifically, miniature fuel cells, small distributed power producers, and even he says, small hydro-projects instead of large destructive dams.
I totally agree with someone's idea that he could have helped with some charts, but not because the book lacks quantitative data. It does not. But some of the data could have been rendered more memorable in chart form; e.g., oil reserves by country, fuel efficiency statistics. Also, he doesn't really cover the stalled Bush energy bill or the Clean Skies Initiative, which is disappointing but I guess he finished the book before these were introduced. Mere quibbles for an otherwise outstanding book.
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