Energy transitions

August 13, 2010

The discussion about our energy supply is full of extremely optimistic expectations. There are many people who believe that full replacement of fossil with renewable energy sources in an extremely short time span is possible. Such ideas have been publicly voiced in Al Gore’s call for 100% renewable energy in the United States within 10 years, and Jacobson & Delucchi’s plan to power 100 percent of the planet with renewable by 2030 published in Scientific American. Their optimism stems from ignoring the inherent gradual nature of energy transitions and the quality differences between energy sources.

Both issues are described in Vaclav Smil’s new book, Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects. Vaclav Smil, a Professor at the University of Manitoba, has been writing about energy for more than two decades. This book is written in his usual clear descriptive style. He has an eye for detail as he quantifies many historical amounts, providing a much needed reality check for any energy transition scenario under consideration. He concludes that energy transitions are a generations-long process. To increase the likelihood of success of the coming energy transition, it would be wise for affluent nations to introduce policy targets to reduce absolute energy usage per capita.

good review


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