Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Solar Revolution – Steven McKevitt and Tony Ryan ****

This is updated edition of Project Sunshine and the review is from that edition.
The authors of this important book recognize that energy is the fundamental limiter for human existence and coupled with getting food production right, producing enough clean energy is the most essential step required to keep the world as we know it going.
It’s a slightly meandering book, taking in population growth, cosmology, world history, fossil fuels, renewables and more. The conclusions are powerful and inevitable. Forget the hydrogen infrastructure beloved of Arnie and Top Gear – it’s expensive and impractical. Yes to wind and all those other good things, but for at least 30 years we need a major increase in nuclear (with particular investment in fusion) combined with a rapidly increasing dependence on solar. This needs to be assembled alongside with effective ways of storing energy, which are more likely to be chemical (e.g. producing methanol from air-based carbon, then burning it) than as batteries.
So a great, really important message, but I found quite a lot of the book irritatingly slow, with far too much history that didn’t really contribute a lot to the argument. There was also a touch of the ‘Gore syndrome ‘ – Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth was largely good, but it was let down badly by a couple of factual errors.
All pop science books have a few errors, but when you lay down the law in a polemic fashion you need to be perfect with you core arguments. This book twice makes the plonking statement that ‘all our energy comes from the Sun’. This is blatantly not true, as the book makes plain in describing nuclear, geothermal and tidal energy – none if them dependent on sunlight.
The pages dealing with cosmology seemed slightly better than in the first edition, but even so there are  some highly dubious numbers on inflation, and this whole section feels a little out of place – not crucial but irritating, making me wonder if the authors should have stuck to the science they knew. Overall, though, a very powerful and important title that all politicians should have on their shelves.
Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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