The Energy Gap is a tour de force review of our energy resources, their potentials, pitfalls, environmental consequences, economics, and politics. The sub-title is “How to solve the world energy crisis, preserve the environment & save civilization.” Well not quite, but it is a start.
After three introductory chapters, the book devotes chapters, in turn, to coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, and green energy sources such as hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, and tidal wave power. There are three chapters on nuclear energy including an explanation of the various types of nuclear reactors and the problems of waste disposal. Additional chapters are devoted to transportation, the energy grid, conservation & efficiency, and the politics of energy.
For each form of energy the authors delve into the history of formation, discovery, development, use, and reserves. The book contains over 200 illustrations, and five appendices. It is written in layman’s terms.
The authors promote nuclear energy and suggest that it should gradually replace coal as the major fuel for electrical generation. Although the U.S. has the highest installed wind generating capacity of any nation, about 25,000 MW, the authors say that wind and solar are not likely to become a significant resource because of the very high cost relative to fossil fuels, and because both wind and solar are intermittent and cannot be counted on to provide a steady peak generation capacity. They do promote these alternative types of energy production in niche markets which might have special advantage.
The authors are somewhat naive about mineral economics and worry that we will run out of fossil fuels before we fully develop alternatives. But “the harsh reality is that, other than hydroelectric power, most renewable technologies are not able to compete economically with fossil fuels.”
They present an energy plan which includes:
Use of renewable energy only where it makes sense.
Shift automobile and light truck production to hybrids and electric. This would increase need for electricity by about 15%. (The only reason for this shift is the author’s unsupported belief that we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I think this is impractical and people will not buy electric cars until battery technology makes it possible to go 500 miles between charges.)
Accelerate construction of new nuclear generating stations and add reactors to existing plants.
Make buildings more energy efficient.
Expand exploration for oil and natural gas which “will be needed until new nuclear plants can come on-line and our vehicle fleet is switched to electricity.”
The authors specifically say we should avoid biofuels because they cause more environmental damage than fossil fuels. They warn against “clean coal” because the infrastructure costs are too high and the possible hazardous effects of storage are too uncertain. (See my article “Clean Coal”: Boon or Boondoggle for background.
They also warn against methane clathrates because they think frozen deposits of natural gas are too risky to exploit.
While I disagree with some of their proposals, I recommend the book just for its extensive review of energy resources. The book is very up to date on energy technology and even discusses the Gulf oil spill.
For another take on the energy problem see A Free Market Energy Vision from MasterResource.