on 29 December 2011
This is the most comprehensive and comprehendable book on the world of energy I have read to date.
Whether you are experienced with the energy business or a newcomer, the book provides you with insight and knowledge on most aspects of the energy business. Mr Yergin takes the reader through both historical developments and modern-day dilemmas in the world of energy, and has an exceptional ability to provide high-level context combined with details knowledge on more technical aspects.
Ranging from geopolitical issues in the Middle East and increasing energy demand in China to the politics of climate change and the technical difficulties of commercialising solar powar, Yergin has written a clear and jargon-free book that is a true masterpiece in the the energy world's library. In short, a truly remarkable book.
on 3 April 2012
In contrast to his previous epic of energy, The Prize, Yergin's updated offering, The Quest, deals with a far more complex, and controversial matter, energy diversity and sustainability.
The Quest begins with the familiar, and all too ubiquitous, energy source, oil. Following on from The Quest, Yergin examines the new developments within the oil industry, such as the return of Russia to the scene, the resource race around the Caspian, the rise of super majors, and the impact of conflict upon the oil market, specifically the Iraq war, and the tensions with Iran.
In the following chapters, Yergin examines nuclear power, and how events such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and most recently the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan have led to a popular and political backlash against nuclear power. The variety of renewable energy sources are examined, along with carbon neutral energy sources such as bio-mass, ethanol and natural gas. An entire chapter is devoted to the impact of climate change, although this chapter is rather familiar, and somewhat one-sided.
The real strengths of The Quest are the insights given to recent developments, such as Shale Gas and the process of Fracking, and the rise of major gas powers such as Qatar. The problems such as the slowness of the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and the logistics and opposition such processes arouse may be entirely familiar to those who follow current affairs, however the strength of this work is that it is included within a comprehensive and wide ranging study.
The conclusions may be unsurprising, namely that the current outlook of the doubling of energy consumption is unsustainable under current trends, and a diversification is necessary. The main requisite, we learn, is incentives, which is demonstrated in the case of Japan, wherein the nations lack of resources has spurned diversification and energy efficiency.
Not a doomsaying or pessimistic work by any account, as a wealth of opportunity and potential is explored within its pages, pointing to a positive conclusion that energy blackout is entirely avoidable providing change is embraced.
The main strength of The Quest is that it leaves no stone unturned, and no issue neglected. What one has within these pages is perhaps the widest, most inclusive, and comprehensive study of the modern world of energy, which is essential reading for all, regardless of ones familiarity with the subject.
on 26 January 2012
This remarkable book covers the whole subject of energy, its history, science, economics and politics. Yergin examines oil, coal, gas (both conventional and unconventional), nuclear power, climate change, the electric age, new energies, and roads to the future.
He notes, "In a carbon-conscious world, nuclear power's great advantages are not only the traditional ones of fuel diversification and self-sufficiency. It is also the only large-scale, well-established, broadly deployable source of electric generation currently available that is carbon free."
US nuclear plants require a licence from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate. These licences were originally granted for 40 years. In 1995 the end of the 40 years was coming into view for many plants. Without extensions, US nuclear supply would have shut down.
In the mid-1980s, the USA's nuclear plants worked at only about 55 per cent of their capacity. Now they work at more than 90 per cent of capacity.
Yergin points out, "The operating record of the nuclear industry had clearly improved, and substantially so. In fact, companies were coming to the commission to request permission for power upgrades, above what had been their maximum output, because of their increased efficiency. In support of license extension, the NRC launched a crucial new initiative to update the safety system that governed the industry, using new tools and capabilities." So the Commission extended licences for another 20 years.
Germany's nuclear plants supply a quarter of its electricity. In 2010 a new law extended their life by another 12 years.
By contrast, here in Britain, the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive will force the closure of 9.8 gigawatts of oil- and coal-fired generation - 12 per cent of our total capacity - by the end of 2013.
The fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, issued in 2007, said that the Himalayas' glaciers, including the Gangroti which feeds the river Ganges, would vanish by 2035, `if not sooner'. By contrast, India's Environment Ministry said that the Gangroti was `practically at a standstill'. It turned out that the 2035 date was from a 1999 phone interview with a scientist who later denied ever giving any date!
In 1979 President Carter forecast that 20 per cent of US energy would come from solar power by 2000. But by 2010, renewables accounted for just 8 per cent of US energy supply: 1.5 per cent from solar and wind, 6.5 per cent from hydropower and biomass.
The fifth fuel is often said to be energy efficiency. A fine example is Japan's 1998 Top Runner programme which finds the most efficient appliance of its kind, then requires that all such appliances exceed the efficiency of that `Top Runner' by a specified date - as a result, TV sets, for example, improved by 26 per cent between 1997 and 2003.
It is not always possible to be self-sufficient economically, particularly for energy sources, but it is possible to be independent, that is, as self-reliant as possible, dependent on no one supplier, by using a diversified range of sources - oil, gas, coal, renewables and nuclear.
To rebuild Britain, we need more R&D, consistent, long-term thinking planning and investment, and security and sustainability of energy.
on 28 September 2011
Whether you agree with Yergin or not on "Peak Oil", this book is essential reading. The prose is nicely jargon free and an easy read especially for those with a bit of background knowledge of the energy industry. As long as you're aware of Yergin's orientation - which is basically pro oil company and anti "peak oil" - then there is a feast of information here. He even has good things to say about wind power, solar and energy efficiency - with nice summaries of how the renewables industry has developed over the last few decades (how does this benefit the oil companies??). In summary, an excellent update to "the Prize". I've given it 4 stars because it would have to be completely free of bias to warrant 5 stars.
on 16 March 2012
I have not read "The Prize" so I can't compare. I launched into this 800 pages long book thinking that Mr Yergin would be able to sort out where we are and where we are going. He did a good job on the first issue but much less so on the second.
This book is a massive presentation of the present situation concerning the worlds energy production and the history behind it. As such it is sometimes quite interesting. The Chapter on Venezuela was even quite funny! The problem is that since the book is such a huge undertaking it is hard to combine and present the complete picture based on the various chapters. You get to learn about oil, coal, wind etc but where is the synthesis? It takes some time to read 800+ pages and that makes it even harder to take the conclusions you made after reading about oil and add it to the rest several days later.
In all of this presentation about how we ended up where we are today he brings up the question about "Peak Oil". This is one of the most debated concepts we have today in energy discussions. But after reading his book I must confess that his view in this is still unclear to me. If I understand him correctly we have not passed "Peak Oil" yet as some other experts believe but when will we? In my lifetime or in my children's or never? I really can't say what his view is and he is a world authority.
Some reviewers of the book have claimed that Mr Yergin is a friend of the big oils companies that dominate world energy production. I do not share these views. I think he is presenting the case of oil in a rather neutral way. Certainly Mr Yergin is no left wing politician but that makes him able to study these questions without any preconceived notions.
One problem in the book is his effort to combine the cases of Global Warming, pollution etc with the future of energy production. It sort of leaves you hanging there thinking that he forgot to wrap it up in a conclusion.
The Book is filled with facts but they are all spread out over 800 pages. There is a serious need for an appendix where you can go back and find these facts should you need them. How much energy does the world consume today? How much from oil etc? How much will we need 20 years from now? These are some of the questions you would like to find quickly instead of rereading 800 pages.
I know a lot now on how we got here but very little about where we are going. Mr Yergin simply refuses to put his foot down and make his prognosis or estimates for the future. This is really very disappointing since the focus of any dinner conversation or political debate on energy is not focused on how we got here but where we are going. If Mr Yergin can not help us with this, how will we with much less information and knowledge make an informed decision?
on 6 November 2011
With The Prize written some 20 years ago, Daniel Yergin established himself as the authority on the development of the oil industry. With the Quest he has brought the developments in the world oil industry up to date but has also produced the most authoritative account of every other significant source of energy I have seen. It is a tour de force.
At the moment, November 2011 , the book remains extremely topical as it considers the impact of recent events like Fukushima in Japan (the worst nuclear disaster in quarter of a century) and the disruption to world oil supplies caused by the "Arab Spring" especially Libya.
Globalisation and the rapid progress of the developing world where people exist on 3 barrels of oil/person/day compared to 14 barrels/person/day in the developed world highlights the importance of the quest for energy. Will enough energy be available to meet the burgeoning demand and which technologies will triumph and at what cost? How can security of energy be protected? What will be the impact of environmental concerns, especially climate change, on future energy supplies?
Fossil fuels still account for more than 80% of world energy. The first part of the book looks at the complex world of oil since the Gulf War and the importance of the growth of China. There are key new energy sources. The USA now gains 50% of its oil supply from Canada's shale oil. But since the start of the 21st Century the greatest innovation has been in the development of shale gas, turning imminent shortage of supply in the USA to over 100 years of supply today. Shale gas has changed the competitive position of everything from nuclear to wind power.
Yergin is at his most fascinating in tracing the development of each of the important technologies involved in energy supply. For example he traces the development of electricity from Edison's light bulbs in 1882 and the titanic battle of AC versus DC between Edison and Westinghouse. Westinghouse's alternating current prevailed and it provided the foundation of large scale power generation. He describes how Insull, the architect of modern electrical distribution, made electricity universally available. The growth in demand for a host of new devices from personal computers to DVD players to smart phones poses big demands on electricity and Yergin examines, in detail, each of the key sources of power.
Climate change has become one of the dominating questions for the future. Renewables have experienced a rebirth and Yergin assesses in depth each of the key renewables - wind, solar and biofuels. He maintains that conservation is making the biggest contribution to the energy balance. Transportation is the key. But which way will the internal combustion engine go? Can the electric car of biofuels depose petrol as king?
A compelling read.
on 9 November 2013
The sequel of "The Prize", which focuses on the history of oil. The author deals in "The Quest" with the short period about oil that was left uncovered in the "The Prize", starting from the second Gulf War (invasion of Kuwait). In the meanwhile, oil has further dominated world politics: Chavez, Saddam Hussein, Nigeria and Iran. Next to that, the oil industry got involved in several mergers & acquisitions: Conocco Phillips, BP Amoco, Exxon Mobil and Total Elf to name a few.
Contrary to Fukuyama's illusion, China and USA have been working further on their goal to be energy independent. The latter seems to be harder than expected, although coal and nuclear energy benefit China, shale gas and shale oil favor USA, energy conservation both. There is still a long way to go, but the growing non-OPEC share leaves opportunities for geopolitical diversification.
What about Japan and Europe? Notwithstanding the Fukushima tragedy, the country has little more options than nuclear energy (taking into account a 80% import dependency on Middle Eastern oil). The same goes for Europe. It is OK to think green, but eliminating nuclear energy leaves no European option than to heavily rely on Arab oil. What if the US decides to retreat from that area? Europe lacks both the political courage and military means to protect its energy sources.
Obviously, Yergin also spends quite some time on green energy and energy conservation. Solar cells, electric cars, biofuel,... Whether or not humans caused the climate change, it is never wrong to use energy more efficiently and to diversify its energy sources. To save the planet and also to be more self-dependent from a geopolitical point of view. Any European politician could learn from this double lesson.
on 19 May 2013
The book is an epic saga magnificently written on the broad spectrum of energy which underpins our modern technological civilization. The book is both authoritative and riveting. The reader has constantly the feeling that the author views from a high vantage and privileged point the unfolding global panorama of energy with all its protagonists, antagonisms, geopolitics, technological evolution, the huge energy sources in the Middle East - one quarter of global oil is located in the Persian Gulf - the struggle for the Caspian sea oil, the natural gas in Qatar, the Sands oil in Canada, and Shale gas in USA. The dominance of coal, and oil, and subsequently of natural gas. The concern for climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions and as a result the quest for clean energy and the rush to renewable s like solar, wind and bio fuels.
There are also many individual stories and protagonists magnificently related such as the natural monopoly in the form of the vertically integrated utility which combined generation, transmission, and distribution within the borders of a single company invented by Samuel Insull or the mega merges that unfolded between 1998 and 2002 representing the largest and most significant remaking of the structure of the international oil industry since 1911. Or major scientific breakthroughs such as the catalytic converter, which assured a thorough burn of the gasoline and thus much reduced smog-inducing emissions. By the end of the 1990s, the smog -causing emissions coming out of the tailpipe of a new car were only 1 percent of what they had been in the 1970s; 99 percent had been eliminated.
And finally there are projections for the future: the cost for building the new electricity capacity the doubling of growth between 2011 and 2030 is currently estimated at $14 trillion- and rising. But that expansion is what will be required to support what could be $130 trillion economy compared to $65 trillion in 2011. And what degree can such an economy, which depends presently on carbon fuels for 80 percent of its energy,move to other diverse energy source? the answers are far from obvious.
on 12 April 2013
I really enjoyed this book. It is not as dramatic and thriller-like as The Prize, but it is an excellent big picture of the energy industry in the last twenty-two years. I highly recommend to read The Prize first and then read this book.
One of the many things I liked is the fact that fossil fuels are not the only options available, i.e. there are alternatives to fossil fuels and they are coming, not as quickly as we would like but they will evolve and become the norm in the future. That is one of the many conclusions that can be drawn from this wonderful book. The fact that a good part of the book is dedicated to these technologies is the best example of the aforementioned. The consequences are starting to be evident. Look in the World Bank web site [...] at the electricity consumption of the USA in the last three years versus the GDP. Although GDP has grown the electricity consumption has not. This is mainly due to energy efficiency, one of the topics mentioned in the book. Last year in the USA the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) set the standards for increasing the fuel efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks to 54.5mpg by Model Year 2025, again energy efficiency. All in all we can get a pretty good picture of the energy industry now and the possible trends in the future.
This book does not tell you what the next main sources of energy will be, as the author is not an oracle, he left the door open to many possibilities and I agree with that as throughout history the business of predicting what the next "big thing" will be has been pretty awful. I particularly think there will be a mix of energy sources depending of the resources available in each region and electricity will significantly reduce the use fossil fuels for transport and mobility as it did many years ago with the lighting. There may be technologies that we do not even know now and that have not even been invented. I totally agree with what Mr. Ahmed Zaki Yamani said: "the Stone Age came to and end not for lack of stones, and the oil age will end, but no for a lack of oil." And as Mr. Bjorn Lomborg said in his book "The Skeptical Environmentalist": "We stopped using stones because bronze and iron were superior materials, and likewise we will stop using oil, when other energy technologies provide superior benefits." Just to finalise this point, the main use of oil when the first well gushed in Titusville in 1859, was for lighting purposes. I am 100% sure that few people think nowadays of using kerosene for lighting, unless they are camping in the wild and even so I have got my doubts.
The oil industry has done a magnificent job in innovating and creating technologies to make the upstream and downstream oil/gas possible in places that thirty years ago were impossible, and that is also mentioned in this book. Likewise all the usual geopolitics involved in the energy industry as well as the rise of China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies that are reshaping the demand for energy. Climate change is also mentioned in a way easy to understand and mainly in a way that shows how it affects us all. I was well impressed by how the author linked the scientific breakthroughs and inventions to the energy industry, as they were the foundations of many international companies such as General Electric, Siemens, Westinghouse, First Solar, Ford, Suntech, Vestas, etc. From Thomas Edison to General Electric and Siemens, from Albert Einstein to SolarTech/Q-Cells/Suntech and so on.
All in all a great book to read if you are seriously interested in the energy industry. I said seriously, because there are a lot of pages to be read... well, if you read The Prize you will read The Quest without any problem.
The current disruption of the geostrategic balance that had underpinned the Middle East for decades is bound to cause ripples in energy markets. But don't these recent developments only add to scares of the past. In his latest work 'The Quest', a follow-up to his earlier work 'The Prize', author Daniel Yergin notes that in a world where fossil fuels still account for more than 80% of the world's energy, crises underscore a fundamental reality - how important energy is to the world.
This weighty volume is Pulitzer Prize winner Yergin's attempt to explain that importance intertwined in a story about the quest for energy security, oil business, search for alternatives to fossil fuels and the world we live in. Three fundamental questions shape this free-flowing and brilliant narrative spread over 800 pages split by six parts containing some 35 detailed chapters. To begin with, will enough energy be available to meet the needs of a growing world and crucially at what cost and with what technologies?
Secondly, how can the security of the energy system on which the world depends be protected and finally, what will be the impact of environmental concerns? The author gives his answers to these profound questions citing international events and technological developments of the decades past and present.
Part I discusses the new and more complex world order after the Gulf War, Part II focuses on energy security issues while Part III discusses the advent of electricity and "gadgetwatts". Part IV discusses climate change, Part V clean technologies and lastly in Part VI, Yergin offers the reader his take on the road ahead.
Shale, oil sands, 'rise' of gas, wind, solar, biofuels, offshore and peak oil versus the perceptively "ever expanding range of the drillbit" have all been discussed in detail by the author. In all honestly, it is neither a pro-fossil fuel rant nor does it belittle the renewables business. Rather it highlights the complexities of both sides of the carbon divide with the macroeconomic and geopolitical climate serving a constant backdrop.
Current the book surely is, accompanied by a healthy dosage of historical contextualisation and Yergin's own take on whether nation states - chiefly the US and China - are destined for a clash over energy security. I read page after page fascinated by an extraordinary range of 'non-fiction' characters, places, technologies, theories and the dramatic stories they resulted in.
What really struck me was that the narrative is free from industry gobbledegook (or its duly explained where applicable) and as such should appeal to a wider mainstream readership base than just energy professionals and those with a mid to high level of market knowledge. Its crisp mix of storytelling and analysis suits petroleum economists and leisure readers alike.
While I attach a caveat that a book of 800 pages is not for the faint hearted, I am happy to recommend it to business professionals, students of economics and the energy business, and as noted above - those simply interested in current events and the history of the oil trade.