Book review : Energy for Future Presidents

Having access to the Seattle Public Library I was able to borrow this book that was strongly recommended to me by Jimmy Jia, one of the many bright faculty of Pinchot University.

At first I didn’t understand why I was recommended such a book as the author belittles completely environmental catastrophes of the past few years such as Fukushima or the Gulf oil spill.

Worse, climate change, the mother of all environmental worries, is regarded as either been overly exagerated or either the US can’t do much because developing nations won’t stop emitting more and more before another three decades. (which is not exactly the case…)


But the book gets, most fortunately, much better. Indeed, energy efficiency measures are studied through the financial lens, with calculations to boost the case. And this is where the book deserves to be read.

The interesting part starts with a very catchy subtitle : ” Invest for a 17.8% annual return, tax-free, with no risk ” (page 114). This would, or at least could, grasp anybody’s attention nowadays. Under this part is explained how installing attic insulation is a great investment. This is even better than infamous Bernard Maddoff’s crooked Ponzi scheme…

But wait, there is more and even better when it comes to investments : installing Compact Fluorescents Lights (CFL), which bring a 209% annual return on invesment (ROI). The case is brilliantly outlined as the author calculates that a CFL is paid back in as little as 174 days, less than six months (page 118).

The interesting part of the book goes on with a very good example of good governmental policy called “decoupling plus” or how utilities in California have been able to keep electricity consumption stable for decades while it was increasing everywhere else in the United States. The idea is to invest in energy efficiency to meet the increasing demand instead of adding new capacity. The cheapest energy source is negawatts, energy saved.


However, the author totally flaunts the case of natural gas from fracking, something I don’t really agree with given the article I wrote a while back. Cf Seven reasons against fracking, one of my most popular articles to date.

There are other issues, which I will enumerate :

  • The author is misled with regards to marine energies, which are currently growing to the point that they will provide energy for hundreds of thousands in a few years,
  • He is also misled about wind and solar, seeing one as “ugly and noisy” and the other one playing only a role in developping countries ;
  • Richard A Muller still believes that nuclear is a good low carbon solution. It isn’t anymore as costs have soared because of the Fukushima catastrophe. Meanwhile, wind and solar are lowering theirs each month more.
  • The author dismisses some other sustainable alternatives such as geothermal or full electric vehicles…


Overall, it’s impressive how three little years after publication this book looks dated and off the park. Luckily, the part on energy efficiency is really worth your time.

Conclusion : borrow this book from your local public library or school and read the part on energy efficiency and conservation. Dismiss the rest. Reinventing Fire and others provide a much better and realistic view.

Grade : 12 out of 20. | 3 stars.


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