A bright, accessible account of renewable energy and its role in our lives.
In this jargon-free blend of history and reporting, science writer Shere explores the current states and possible futures of biofuel, solar cells, wind power, hydrothermal technology and other alternative energy sources. The future of renewables is “uncertain but full of promise,” writes the author, speculating that by 2075, our homes may include biofuel machines and hydrogen fuel systems. For now, scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs continue to struggle to overcome technical and logistical issues to produce quality alternative fuels as cheaply as possible. They do so in the face of many political obstacles. In considering each renewable, Shere tells the stories of early pioneers: Henry Ford and his dream of making auto fuel from plants; French inventor Augustin Mouchot and his solar engines of the mid-1800s; and Cleveland tinkerer Charles Brush, who, in 1888, built an 80,000-pound windmill to generate electricity. Modern interest in renewables was spurred by the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, only to dwindle when oil prices fell in the mid-1980s. In contrast, writes Shere, current interest may last: Production of conventional oil is nearing its peak, while the main impediment to the rise of renewable energy—cost—is receding as economies of scale reduce the price of solar panels, wind turbines and other technologies. After interviews with experts and visits to a solar farm, a geothermal power plant and an exposition of wind power companies, among others, Shere concludes that “no one technology or idea or grand vision is a sure bet.” Each faces daunting challenges. Solar energy now accounts for less than 1 percent of annual U.S. power consumption; wind produces 2 percent of global electricity products. However, wind, solar and biofuels are gradually becoming “legitimate energy players.” One day, alternative sources will provide most of our energy.
A solid overview of an important, often misunderstood topic.