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POWER HUNGRY by Robert Bryce


The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future

by Robert Bryce

Pub Date: April 27th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-58648-789-8
Publisher: PublicAffairs

“Oil is greener than nearly everything else that might replace it,” writes Texas-based energy journalist and Energy Tribune managing editor Bryce in this contrarian, discontented approach to renewable energy

Energy sources must be judged, the author writes, by the four imperatives: power density, energy density, cost and scale. By that measure, oil is a good source of energy, while corn ethanol is not, since corn-ethanol production requires huge swaths of agricultural land put in the service of making something that is inferior to gasoline, containing “just two-thirds of gasoline’s heat content.” So far, so good—and indeed, the ethanol craze has already passed. But Bryce has it in for other much ballyhooed forms of energy production as well. Wind doesn’t cut it because it takes lots of land to build towers that in turn don’t produce much electricity, whereas a coal-burning plant performs wonders. The author harbors special hopes for nuclear energy, observing that many of its former foes—Stewart Brand notably among them—have since recanted. He is right to note that even if the United States succeeds in reducing carbon emissions to Kyoto Protocol levels, the rest of the world, and particularly the energy-poor world, will not “ignore the relatively low-cost power than can be derived from hydrocarbons.” Though his arguments will provide comfort to the drill-baby-drill set, Bryce’s recommendations are not without qualifications. He opposes mountaintop removal for coal, for instance, and has hope for an expanded role for solar power. Though he defends some of the old sources of energy production by assuming that technological improvements will remediate environmental damage, the author seems reluctant to allow that renewable forms of energy are not static—wind generation technology is steadily improving, for instance, while biofuels are becoming ever easier and more cost-effective to produce. A little less sneering and fewer straw men would have improved this statistics-rich and generally capably argued case.

Al Gore won’t be blurbing this one, but advocates of renewable energy should familiarize themselves with the book, since oil, gas and coal lobbyists surely will.