The Great Transition by Lester R. Brown
W. W. Norton & Company (April 20, 2015)
Review by Ross McCluney 22 OCT 2015
This is a terrific contribution from an experienced writer on environmental issues.
It has been a long struggle to bring the costs of solar energy and other renewable sources down to a point where they can actually compete in the energy marketplace, even without major government incentives.
That’s the case for wind and solar, as Brown describes so well in this new book. Other renewable energy sources are also making great strides, as are efficient buildings and efficient transportation — not to mention research accomplishments on energy storage technologies, efficient long-distance electricity grid designs, and massive new investments in green energy.
The only deficiency is the lack of graphics to support the text. But never mind that. Web searches on wave energy, tidal energy, ocean current energy, solar electric, solar thermal, energy storage, geothermal, wind turbines, electric grids, and renewable energy economics can put these images plus relevant charts and graphs at your fingertips.
For example, when I started out as a solar scientist in 1976, the holy grail in the photovoltaic world was getting the price of PV down to an amazingly low price of 50¢ per peak Watt (Wp) of electrical output. At that time the price was over $76/Wp. Take a look at this astounding bar chart of the price from 1976 to 2015.
It turns out that we passed the 50¢/Wp point in 2013 and now the price is an amazingly 30¢/Wp, thanks mainly to China’s recent burst in solar equipment manufacturing, aided along the way by the United States, Japan, and Germany. Continue reading
OPINION & REVIEW
Do you wonder how long the mostly fossil fueled electric utility industry can last, given their immense problems with existing nuclear power plants and the rising costs of planned new nukes? It is true that expensive new sources of petroleum have been found, but these are increasingly remote, difficult to find, hard to reach, and very expensive to extract, pump, and deliver. In consequence, the dollar and environmental costs to produce coal, oil, and even natural gas are rising and will continue to do so indefinitely.
If this were not bad enough, world population keeps growing and gigantic populations, which have been largely poor and in poverty, are increasingly better educated and enjoying better living conditions. The trend is certainly not universal, but the growths in India, China, Indonesia, and elsewhere are certainly noticed in board rooms around the world. The wealthy 1% are greedily and happily looking forward to their further rising incomes as demand soars and prices increase, producing greater profits for the fossil fuel industry. Governments may try to impose strict environmental controls but these are minor impediments in the minds of the wealthy industrialists. Plus, huge infusions of money from industry to political super PACS keep strict pollution laws and carbon taxes to a minimum. Continue reading