Thursday, April 20, 2006

Power to the People

Power to the People: How the Coming Energy Revolution Will Transform an Industry, Change Our Lives, and Maybe Even Save the PlanetBy Vijay Vaitheeswaran

A very readible book, based on interviews rather than desk research, this book offers quotes from energy gurus rather than graphs and tables. Because of this approach, it gives a good reflection on what is currently at stake in the energy world. Reading its index, it is as much about people and organisations as it is about keywords.

The central theme of the book is that the combined forces of market liberalisation and growing environmental concerns, in combination with new technology (fuel cells and micropower), will revolutionize the power system, leading to an energy internet. This is based on intelligent homes and buildings, micropower generated close to the point of use, and a distribution system allowing multi-directional energy flows.

With new technology becoming available, and ageing power infrastructure (requiring 10 Tdollar investment over the next 30 years), we have a window of opportunity to replace end-of-life power with something new. But 3 camps polarise the energy debate 'don't worry', 'keep pumping' and 'ride your bicycle'. None of these get it right, and consensus needs to be built around the 4th micropower way.

Overall, the book provides a good fresco of today's energy debate. The picture drawn for us is attractive, though it's not the only one possible. It leans more towards ngo's and institutes such as Worldwatch and Rocky Mountains, and it is a bit biased against big power, big oil and big coal. If you want to read a book in the 'small is beautiful' camp, with a focus on politics rather than science, this book would not be a bad choice at all.

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