A Valuable Source of In-Depth Energy Information

A Valuable Source of In-Depth Energy Information
September 4, 2010

Review of Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, by Robert Bryce (Public Affairs, 2010), 416 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1586487898

Few science books are worth reading each and every page. Climatism, by Steve Gorham, (reviewed here in March) is an exception. Power Hungry is not, but without doubt it contains more than enough great information to make it a terrific buy for anyone with a strong interest in the nation’s energy supply.

I recommend reading only about 20 pages a day, as it is very numerically heavy, but it’s well worth a fun 15-day investment.

Comprehensive Research
Robert Bryce spent four years researching every aspect of American energy from a fairly objective point of view. As one currently under contract to compile a four-volume encyclopedia of energy for John Wiley & Sons, I can tell you Bryce has done an outstanding job.

From time to time he throws in his personal politics—which too many authors are inclined to do—and he has too much respect for the global warming alarmists for my comfort, but these do not detract too much from the excellent analysis of various energy technologies.

A full 54 pages devoted to references illustrate the comprehensive research Bryce has done, as well as the quality of his sources. He is at his best destroying many of the myths regarding renewable energy, providing powerful mathematical proofs that anyone can understand.

He is also excellent on nuclear energy, and I will use one of his chapters as the basis for a future article on small-scale nuclear power generation in a future issue of ECN.

Useful Information
To convince you of the value of the book, in the remainder of this review I will simply offer a surfer’s list of some of the wonderful nuggets of information this 394 page text contains:

* Natural gas supplies are bountiful, with a known 280 years of resources available at our present rate of consumption.

* The next time someone says we are addicted to oil, substitute the word “prosperity” for oil.

* Nearly 3 billion people relying on biomass energy would love to trade places with us.

* Power density is the key to all energy sources. Oil, gas, coal, and nuclear have high power density, whereas wind, solar, and other renewable power sources have terribly low density.

* Humans cannot live near wind farms because of the low-level noise produced by their massive blades which has palpable physical impacts.

* Each megawatt of deliverable wind energy requires 870 cubic meters of concrete and 460 tons of steel, whereas a gas-fired plant requires only about 3 percent as much.

* In order for the Chinese to build a planned 12,700 megawatts of new wind power, they will have to add 9,200 megawatts of new coal power as back-up.

* Denmark’s perceived leadership in successful wind power is a mirage. Denmark has not reduced carbon emissions, energy costs have tripled there, and the nation must export most of its wind power at below-market rates.

* The American Bird Conservancy estimates between 75,000 and 275,000 birds are killed each year by wind turbines.

* The United States, without strict government mandates, is already leading the world in reducing its carbon intensity and its energy use without doing any of the things environmental activist groups dictate.

* Each year, hundreds of thousands of people die in Third World nations from indoor air pollution caused by the burning of biomass. Power from coal, natural gas, and oil would improve living conditions and reduce pollution-related deaths.

* Although environmental activist groups strongly hype cellulosic ethanol, it is no closer to technological and economic viability than it was when first described in 1921.

* Ethanol cannot significantly reduce the demand for oil, because many products other than automotive fuel are extracted from oil.

* Batteries have improved, but not by the orders of magnitude required to enable battery powered cars to compete with other forms of transportation.

* 2,000 tons of uranium can release as much energy as 4.2 billion tons of oil.

* Measured in units of output, wind and solar power are getting 15 times as much federal subsidy money as nuclear power.

Power Density the Key
The primary theme of this book is the importance of power density. As Bryce thoroughly documents, coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power provide such power density while wind, solar, and biofuels do not.

You will not find a book on energy that makes this important point more strongly than this one.

Jay Lehr, PhD. (lehr@heartland.org) is science director of The Heartland Institute.