Friday, April 19, 2019

The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy

Continuing with the nonfiction reading I've been doing, I started reading Lester R. Brown's The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy.  I was specifically looking for a more positive book on global warming, and this was one of the books near the top of the list.  None of those books were available locally at the library, and this one was the cheapest on Kindle, which is why I ultimately decided to read it.

The Great Transition looks at various sources of energy (including coal, oil, nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric), then goes about making a case for why solar and wind are the clear winners.  Coal is very dirty; while it still powers a large part of the world, its dominance is diminishing because people are demanding clean air.  Oil and natural gas may be a bit cleaner than coal, but they are getting harder to access now that the easy oil fields are discovered and being used up.  Nuclear was once touted as the energy of the future, but costs to get power plants online have soared (plus thanks to several really bad nuclear accidents like the Chernobyl disaster and the more recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, most people no longer support nuclear power plants coming online); nuclear is no longer a good bet in our transitioning energy economy.  In contrast, the costs for both solar and wind have dramatically decreased.  Plus they have very low environmental footprints compared to traditional energy sources.  Geothermal is a possibility, but it is costly to look for sources for geothermal wells (plus there is no guarantee that you'll actually find a good place while you're investigating).  And hydroelectric projects, while renewable, are costly and disruptive; plus many of the large rivers have already been dammed, so the era of making mega-dams is drawing to a close.

This book is packed full of facts and figures about how many megawatts different projects bring in for different countries.  It's good information, but it's a bit overwhelming to read all at once (and also to keep straight at times).  I like that the book has a global focus, but it still zeroes in a lot more on the United States (in most cases it will talk about what a certain country is doing, then zero in on different things happening in multiple different States).  Since I'm not American, I wasn't as interested in the happenings of different States and admit that I found it a slog to read through parts of some chapters as a result.  I applaud the individual States for their projects and successes, I just personally didn't need to be reading so in depth about them.

But the one major issue I had with reading The Great Transition is that, unfortunately, it's out of date.  The facts and figures were all from around 2014, which I presume is when the book was written (it was published in 2015).  But I'm reading it in 2019, four years later; that means that presumably a lot has changed.  Many of the projects that were slated to open within the last four years should be open now.  And I'm sure many of the counties listed in the book that were working on transitioning to renewables have now a higher percentage of their power coming from renewable sources than what was reported in this book.  Being out of date also made the book a bit of a slog to read through, which was unfortunate.  I think it would have been an easier read if it had focussed more on discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the different resources, and how they affected each country, rather than relying so heavily on the specific megawatts of each country and project.  While it's been awhile, I think Just Cool It! did a better job of this than The Great Transition

So all in all, I'm glad I read The Great Transition.  It is a book that is full of hope for the future: the technology was here in 2015 to cheaply harness solar and wind power, and it will only continue to get better.  But honestly, you're better off waiting for a revised edition of this book to come out.  Or just check out Just Cool It!, which talks about the different resources that are available in the here and now to replace fossil fuels without the very specific and out of date facts and figures.