14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2008
Here's what Stephen Balbach (top 500 reviewer) said about this book over on Amazon US:
This is an absolutely excellent overview of the current state of green/clean technology and solutions to global warming.
I thought I already knew a lot about clean technology through blogs, science news and other books - and Goodall is current with the latest news up to early 2008. But there was hardly a page I did not learn something new, or had my perspectives changed about specific technologies. This is not starry-eyed techno optimism, nor a pessimists dark vision. Goodall takes a sober non-ideological and even-handed engineering perspective with lightly placed pronouncements on the viability of technologies, both good and bad, often convincingly overturning perceived wisdom and myth. The book would also make an excellent primer for anyone looking to invest in clean technology, it cuts through the hype and quickly gets to the bottom line of energy units and costs, and the risks of each technology. My copy is dogeared with some of the best specific products and companies to look into as investment potentials.
The chapter titles say a lot:
1. Capturing the wind
2. Solar energy
3. Electricity from the oceans
4. Combined heat and power
5. Super-efficient homes
6. Electric cars
7. Motor fuels from cellulose
8. Capturing carbon
10. Soil and forests
Each chapter stands on its own and if your only interested in some the others can be skipped, but they are all fascinating. The author is British and it is written for an English audience, usually using British pounds and examples, but the US is mentioned many times and it is easy to extrapolate (many US companies are mentioned). It is very well written and easy to read.
Some examples of things in the book: because water is 1000 times heavier than air, underwater turbines harnessing tidal energy in places like Scotland and Canada have extremely "dense" energy potentials. And the technology, which is very simple, is already in place coming online at commercial scales soon. As well, wave power is a mature technology with big potential. Fuel cells for cars will probably never take off for reasons explained, but as electric generators in homes, it has a lot of potential. Carbon capture and storage, which I thought was pie in the sky, is actually a very viable technology up and working today in places in Europe. The book explains exactly how its done, and how it is stored underground.
Books like this which are so specific about technologies, policies and companies will become out of date quickly. They burn bright but quickly. Indeed the book was written before the crash in oil prices in the second half of 2008, so it sometimes reads from another era. However, it is still valuable and energy prices will inevitably rise again. Indeed the book is a sort of testament to the need for government help in keeping new technologies afloat during the occasional oil crashes.
on 26 April 2009
A friend who has the job of raising public awareness about climate
change once told me: As soon as you mention percentages and the
centigrade to a typical audience, you have lost them. But there is
another school of popular science outreach, a proponent of which is the
late Professor Paul Saltman of San Diego. He insisted that (for example)
it is not enough for public nutrition campaigns to put food into groups
and count dietary portions, but that people need to be taught about
metabolism -- about the hard science.
Responding to current concerns about climate change and energy security,
an optimistic version of this kind of hard science can be found in Ten
Technologies to Save the Planet, billed as a popular science book on a
hot topic. The author Chris Goodall, not a scientist by training but an
alumnus of Harvard Business School, demonstrates herein an often
neglected but essential trait in any hard-nosed businessperson: an
understanding of basic laws of nature. An entrepreneur, upon
encountering a patent document, should be knowledgeable enough to ask
(and likely to answer) the question: Does this invention violate the
second law of thermodynamics? Goodall's lifelong interest in science,
kindled by devoted school teachers, is thus put to good use,
distinguishing the specious hype from the scientific advances that can
contribute in mitigating or adapting to the effects of climate change.
To enumerate the eponymous items: wind, solar, maritime energies,
combined heat and electricity, super-efficient homes, electric cars,
cellulosic biofuels, carbon capture and storage, biochar, and
agricultural/forest carbon sinks. In the discussions about the first few
items, the fact that electricity is a more versatile form of energy than
heat or fossil fuels is heavily relied upon. As technologies for the
storage electricity improves, a fleet of electric cars can take the
central role in a renewable-electricity economy/ecology: doubling as
storage devices to soak up electricity when demand is low, and to
provide the baseload at other times.
The vision of such an economy/ecology cannot come into existence without
large-scale infrastructural investments; for example, a Europe-wide grid
that balances out fluctuations among wind, maritime, and solar
generation of electricity. For this last source of energy, two main
contenders are discussed: photovoltaic and concentrated solar power
(CSP). The second one, perhaps lower-tech but better-proven than its
companion, is a patently economical technology. The Spanish company
Abengoa are building a CSP power station in Algeria, using parabolic
troughs to concentrate sunlight for electricity. This technology can
equally apply to other Maghreb countries. In the Mashreq, it already has
powerful backers such as Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Both Africa
and Europe can draw the most benefit from this by installing
high-voltage direct current transmission lines under the Mediterranean,
between these two continents.
Closer to home, Goodall considers developments of super-efficient
buildings in Europe. He notes that only a small fraction of houses are
replaced every year. To make a difference in the collective energy and
carbon bills, the current housing stock needs to be upgraded, in
addition to zero-emission new-builds. German ingenuity has brought about
the Passivhaus (passive house) movement, which taught us that
high-precision construction methods, such as prefabrication of houses,
are 'the easiest way to achieve the standards' of energy efficiency
required; but Goodall notes sadly that prefabrication is still 'anathema
in places like the UK'. One cannot but feel that here, it is not the
lack of technology that is the barrier, but sociology and politics; more
on this at the end.
Unlike most commentators from the green camp, Goodall does not treat
carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a distraction from investment in
real renewables, but puts it in this top-ten list. This enthusiasm
relies on the premise that the carbon dioxide captured can be injected
into aquifers 'to form very stable carbonates' that cannot escape.
Goodall admits that this storage strategy, along with the capturing
mechanism, requires more research. Indeed, any instability of storage
will be the deal-breaker in the case for CCS. Still, there has been no
rush on the power industry's part to invest in research and development
of CCS: even the planned Kingsnorth coal-fired plant is only set to be
CCS-ready, not CCS-now.
Moving from artificial carbon sinks to biosphere ones, Goodall gives
zero-till cultivation 4 pages' worth of spotlight. He reports: 'Over 20
per cent of American farmlands are now avoiding the plough, and the
figure is even higher in Brazil and Canada.' The late author and
smallholder John Seymour argued against this practice. As he said in his
classic The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency: 'No-diggers and
no-ploughers have great success, provided they have very large
quantities of compost or farmyard manure with which to mulch their land.
... The idea of very heavy mulches is fine -- providing you can get the
compost. But the land itself will never produce enough vegetable
material to make enough compost to cover itself sufficiently deeply and
therefore you will have to bring vegetable matter in from outside.'
Though the Earth is much larger than a smallholding, it is not immune
from the law of the conservation of atoms. The zero-till farmlands in
the Americas, if Seymour was correct, must bring in fertilizers from
'outside'. Where is this 'outside'? It is likely to be the
fossil-fuel-based, carbon-intensive processes making fertilizers such as
the Haber-Bosch. If true, zero-till farmlands may be devastating net
carbon emitters rather than agricultural carbon sinks. This is not taken
into account in Goodall's cost-benefit analysis.
Perhaps off-message for a parliamentary candidate of the Green Party of
England and Wales, whose manifesto fundamentally opposes any nuclear
energy, Goodall keeps an open mind about nuclear fission. Braving
criticism from within his party, he hints in the Epilogue that it, along
with geoengineering, might be in the running as the Eleventh Technology.
But he is in no way romantic about the technology; rather, he subjects
it to a detailed cost-benefit analysis. He reckons that building any new
nuclear plants would only be borderline economically competitive, if at
all; and it runs the risk of adversely competing with investments in
real renewables. The money can be much better spent elsewhere.
Unlike Goodall's first book, How to Live a Low Carbon Life (2007), this
book does not have any footnotes. Perhaps in this age of web searches,
these are considered by the publisher to be devices too Victorian for a
popular science book. However, the more academically-inclined reader may
feel frequently frustrated that the data cited, some critical in
distinguishing the usefulness of a certain technology, are not
On a more general note, shall we trust that technologies alone can save
the planet? Though Goodall thinks they will play a large role, in an
interview with the Environment Agency (United Kingdom) in 2007, he said,
'[The different faith groups] need to form a coalition to encourage
their followers to set an example to the rest of the population.' And
this reviewer agree with him, who attends St Margaret's Church in the
neighbouring parish in Oxford, that nothing short of precisely a
collective change of heart will bring salvation.
As a popular science book, this is an exciting read that can be finished
in a long weekend. Whether a lily-hearted parent worried about college
fees, pension schemes and the future of generations to come, or a
dyed-in-the-wool capitalist investor trying to squeeze a buck out of the
climate-change lemon, this book will give the reader plenty to brood
over: maybe when building a conservatory in the back of the house, or
when calling the stockbroker next Monday. All the while, this book
reconnects the reader to the reality of things: that there are just that
many joules about -- there is no way around it; and that either the
carbon stays in the ground, or it goes up into the atmosphere to heat us
And, at the ballot box, what should be in the front of the reader's
mind? At the end of the book, Goodall issues an exhortation which this
reviewer wants to echo: 'We need to vote for governments that are
prepared to take the somewhat painful measures, today, to permanently
reduce our need for fossil fuels. Politicians who argue that climate
change is too expensive to solve must be rejected -- urgently.' The
United States of America has done so; it is the turn of the European
electorates to do the same in June 2009.
Kaihsu Tai, January 2009
The geographical characteristics of an area dictate which renewable energy sources will work best. Because renewable energy is inherently, though predictably, intermittent, governments will need to build supplementary systems. Basically, no single technology will answer all of the world's needs. However, a "portfolio" of technologies should do the trick. Businessman and climate change expert Chris Goodall describes 10 technologies in intricate detail, from the well-known to the obscure, and explains clearly which will work where, and why. Each technology has the potential to reduce the world's annual carbon dioxide output by 10%. Although quite technical, getAbstract recommends this book to businesspeople, plant managers, home owners and others who value social responsibility and sustainability.