CNBC global energy expert and Pulitzer winner Yergin (The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace That Is Remaking the Modern World, 1998, etc.) returns with an appropriately massive tome on an endlessly important subject: the world’s energy future.
“The world’s appetite for energy in the years ahead will grow enormously,” writes the author in the opening pages. Just how enormously remains to be seen; as he writes, energy consumption grew by nearly half across the world in the last 20 years, a result of increasing economic development, and it is likely to increase by nearly as much. But how to feed that increasing demand? In a timely discussion, Yergin examines the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, where damage to nuclear power plants caused Germany and other European powers to declare a moratorium on new plants within their borders. Even France, the world’s largest exporter of electricity, much generated by nuclear power, has voiced misgivings about the energy source. In a fluent narrative, Yergin looks closely at three big issues: whether the energy will in fact be there to meet the demand, what sorts of conflicts will be generated with the generation of power and whether energy needs and environmental concerns can ever be balanced. Importantly, he argues for diversity in energy, particularly because of the well-known law of long lead times in making changes to the energy mix—in other words, it takes much time and much planning to convert from one source to another, and the world will need to employ every source it can get. For that reason, the author projects continued reliance on fossil fuels over renewables. At the same time, he emphasizes an indirect source of energy, namely the more efficient use of the energy we already have, for which there must be greater economic incentives.
Capably ranging from science to history to politics, Yergin serves up a highly readable, sometimes sobering view of what the near future will look like—and it may not be pretty.