This book is in three sections. The first section is a critique of various non-fossil fuel and green energy production options and how they are used in the USA. The second and third sections are Zehner’s suggestions of the changes that the USA should make to deal with the future of energy supply and demand.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first section. I worked as a trading analyst for a large energy company for ten years. I know quite a bit about energy options for Europe, and the UK in particular. I like facts and figures and thorough, logical analysis. I know from experience that the green options are not as simple or as practical as some would have us believe and I have given plenty of thought to how best to meet the energy needs of my own country, if the world in general. Zehner takes solar panels, wind turbines, biofuels, nuclear generation, hydrogen cells, clean coal and hydropower and discusses each method’s use and practicality in the USA. I do not agree with everything that he says, but he raises some excellent points (although he does miss a few things out). I learnt a lot about the way all this works in the USA.
Then we move on to the second two sections of the book. This book is so very clearly aimed at Americans (and probably the very un-curious and un-questioning kind who have never left their country) that I found the second half staggeringly obvious, and I skipped through a lot of it. So, Zehner’s suggestion for America is this: use less energy. He gives European cities as an example and suggests things such as wasting less energy in the home, consuming less stuff that we do not really need, using our legs for transport from time to time and taxing energy. With the exception of the last thing (I am kind of a supporter of increased nuclear generation, at least in the short term in my own country, so I support carbon trading), I completely agree, especially with the point he makes about dropping the GDP as a measure of anything at all, it’s just not meaningful to normal people. My problem with his suggestions is that I think it would take a huge paradigm shift in this country for the US to get anywhere near the “first steps” that Zehner suggests. Stuff like this is just not what the US government is about.
I wish the cover had mentioned how very America-focused this book is. Energy is a global issue and should be considered as such, although I appreciate that it would have been a much heavier book if he had tackled the whole world. We have energy crises of our own going on various European countries, the accelerating growth of power generation in India and China is fascinating, and I am fairly sure the great coal-producing nations of South Africa and Australia may have been interesting to discuss, too.
I chose this to read for the Las Vegas Non-Fiction Book Group and I enjoyed discussing this subject with the curious, intelligent and questioning Americans who attended, but I honestly do not believe that they consider any of these suggestions to reduce demand particularly new. I would love to hear how anyone thinks they could be put into effect, though. Because this country loves it’s cars, it’s packaging, it’s washers and dryers, it’s AC and it’s poorly insulated windows.