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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brave new energy world?
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...
Published on 14 Dec. 2008 by Dennis Littrell

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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a disappointing effort on a fascinating topic
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...
Published on 12 Jan. 2003 by gr00mer


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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a disappointing effort on a fascinating topic, 12 Jan. 2003
This review is from: The Hydrogen Economy (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. However, he does not suggest where the necessary power will come from to refine Hydrogen from water. Indeed, he states that current world production of Hydrogen (including, I presume a large chunk using oil energy) is 10% of current oil demand - thus a 1,000% increase in hydrogen refining capacity is required, to be powered by an even greater increase in renewables.
He then goes on to acknowledge that hydrogen is merely a carrier of energy. As such, is only one of many technologies, e.g. flywheels or chemical batteries, that might be used for that purpose. If every citizen posessed the capacity and the power supply to split water then they would be better off using it to light and heat their own homes directly instead of selling hydrogen into the marketplace.
Rifkin has the disadvantage of not knowing what the future holds and clearly has to make a coherent arguement. However, it is unfortunate that the breadth of options for the future management of world energy demand is not better explored - perhaps a review of the book in ten years time will be the best test.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars the oil economy, 28 July 2003
This review is from: The Hydrogen Economy (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Brave new energy world?, 14 Dec. 2008
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Hydrogen Economy (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. At about the time Rifkin's book was written, according to Michael A. Peavey in his book, Fuel from Water: Energy Independence with Hydrogen, it cost $7.40 to create enough hydrogen fuel to equal the energy provided by one gallon of gasoline (at electricity costing $0.10 per Kwh). Rifkin does not go into this non-cost effectiveness to any great degree, partly because he believes both that the cost of conversion will go down and the price of oil will go up.

A quick read might give the impression that one can use electricity to produce hydrogen from say water and use the hydrogen to create electricity or run engines with a net gain. Not so. The efficiency of the process of electrolysis (getting hydrogen from water) is about 50%. This is a big net loss. So why are automobile manufactures, oil companies and Jeremy Rifkin so excited about hydrogen technology?

First and foremost of course hydrogen is clean burning. It does not produce any greenhouse gases that are leading to global warming. And second, when used in fuel cell technology there is the prospect that energy use and production will be decentralized allowing individuals and small organizations freedom from the vast infrastructure and top down organization that characterizes the oil industry today.

Both of these advantages of hydrogen however depend on the use of renewable resources, wind, sun, downward running water, evaporation, the burning of biomass, etc. to isolate the hydrogen which is always tied up in molecules with other elements as in water, natural gas, oil, etc. So what the advantages accruing from the proposed brave new world of the hydrogen economy actually depend on is the same thing we cannot do today, that is, get the bulk of our energy from renewable resources.

As others have pointed out, essentially hydrogen is an energy storage device. The initial energy must come from somewhere else. Although we definitely need storage devices that can be placed where we want them to be utilized even when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, storage devices themselves are not an independent source of energy and cannot by themselves be the solution to our energy problems.

Having said this, the book is still a very good read and an eye-opener about the coming end of the fossil fuel era, arriving at our doorsteps in just a few decades. Also Rifkin's speculations about the nature of the hydrogen economy are interesting and probably pertinent since the major car manufacturers and the major oil companies are already gearing up for the transformation. These mega-players in the energy game will dictate the rules in the years to come. They will use their existing infrastructures and their capital to ease the transformation for them and to maintain their power and profit margins. This is one of the salient points Rifkin makes in this book. The curious thing is, I'm not sure whether, amid all of his enthusiastic expression, he realizes what his message really is, namely that we are going to be burning fossil fuels and building nuclear plants well into the latter half of the 21st century.

Note well this quote on page 189 from John Browne, the CEO of British Petroleum, making the "bullish" forecast that "50 percent" of world-wide energy demand "will be met by solar and other renewable resources by 2050." That, folks, is the bottom line: fifty percent by 2050, fuel cells or no fuel cells.

The bottom line for this book is that it is readable, informative--even at times, fascinating--but not exactly what it purports to be. Read it and judge for yourself.
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5 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rifkin has no respect for the scientific method, 31 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Hydrogen Economy (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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Hydrogen Economy
Hydrogen Economy by Jeremy Rifkin (Paperback - 6 Jan. 2004)
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