Calculate Renewable Energy Requirements

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Regardless how you feel about the issue, most people would agree that the Copenhagen Climate Conference certainly didn't resolve very much.  But don't worry - this post isn't going to inundate you with more vague talk about climate change and energy independence1 - rather, it's going to be introduce a fun, FREE, book:

Have you heard about Sustainable Energy – Without Hot Air by David JC MacKay? You can buy it or read it free online. It takes a fresh, numerical look at sustainable energy: trying to actually put numbers to today’s problems and see what ideas really add up, instead of relying on adjectives and weasel-words. For any of the hot topics flying around these days: energy independence, global warming, peak oil, etc., I'd recommend this book. It provides a bit of fact-checking reality, whether you are for or against mandating renewable power. It’s also got a sense of humour.

The book sets itself a goal: let us see if Britain (his country) really can sustain itself on renewable energy, using back-of-the-envelope calculations and real numbers from literature. Is it even technically feasible?? To test our chances, MacKay suggests we try a thought experiment: we will assume Britain can do energy projects on absolutely massive scales without public protests, let all economic concerns fade into the background, and convert all forms of energy production and energy use into one simple unit: the kwh/D. Then we will tally up the consumption, estimate how much production we could actually get going with renewables, and see what happens.

Going through this exercise is eye-opening. It shows the incredible land requirements of alternative energy. It suggests winners and losers and costs. You can see how you can mix and match approaches to try different things. It also tries to quantify carbon capture. It tries to examine the cost of the potential solutions, and compare them to other costs like the Space Program or the War in Iraq. This is all done in an open and honest way.

Oh, you are too busy to read it want a spoiler? Well you could skip his conclusions in chapter 27, or click show for the super-short version:


Lastly, check out his Without Hot Air blog. It has fun applying real numbers to fact-check marketing twaddle.

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  1. Although trust me, I could go on forever if I wanted to. []

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  1. Pingback: Carbon Capture and Storage Cost Comparison | Smart Process Design

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