Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Without the hot air: the energy numbers

Thanks to openDemocracy, I found and downloaded Numbers, not adjectives, the first part of David MacKay's book Sustainable Energy - without the hot air.

If the rest is as interesting and readable as Chapter 1 Motivations, it could prove to be a real gem. His take on the debate about renewables versus nuclear as energy alternatives:

This heated debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates, people just say “Nuclear is a money pit” or “We have a huge amount of wave and wind.” The trouble with this sort of language is that it’s not sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one “huge” compares with another “huge,” namely our huge energy consumption. To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives.
Later on he claims:
I don’t want to feed you my own conclusions. Convictions are stronger if they are self-generated, rather than taught. Understanding is a creative process. When you’ve read this book I hope you’ll have reinforced the confidence that you can figure anything out.

... Debates about energy policy are often confusing and emotional because people mix together factual assertions and ethical assertions.
The rest of the book can be downloaded from his website above.

Good reading!

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