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Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air by MacKay

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Topic: Environment
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Sustainable energy: Without the hot air

David J. C. MacKay 2009

Online: http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html

Author’s personal data:

  • Born in 1967(MacKay, 2009a);
  • Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge (MacKay, 2015);
  • Former Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Department of Physics (MacKay, 2015);
  • Researches in the economic aspects of environmental sustainability, particularly, the issue of energy retrieval (MacKay, 2015).

As a reflection of Mackay’s consistent study of the prospects of the environmental alterations, the Sustainable energy features a range of topics related to the subject matter directly:

  • debates concerning the location of limits for energy retrieval;
  • search for safe and secure energy sources;
  • nature-vs.-nurture conflict;
  • climate change;
  • role of people in environmental changes;
  • technology and the sear h for sustainable energy;
  • Recycling as an essential step towards sustainability.

Outline Structure of the Book

The key sections of Sustainable energy: Without the hot air (MacKay, 2009):

Numbers, not adjectives

  • A rather humble title of the chapter is quite misguiding; though MacKay does, in fact, provide a rather dry list of key effects of the basic misconceptions concerning energy and its sources, he manages to raise awareness of the readers instantly.
  • The chapter mentions the basic energy consumption processes occurring in the contemporary society, pointing at the increasingly big need for alternative sources of energy.
  • The chapter ends on an ambiguous yet hopeful note of recycling being the salvation of the humankind (MacKay, 2009).

Making a difference

  • MacKay states that, though the current rates of energy consumption are not going to reduce any day soon due to the rapid evolution and the availability of technology, there is a way of addressing the issue of energy retrieval and the preservation of the non-renewable energy sources.
  • Various types of energy are considered and compared in the chapter, including nuclear, thermal, and renewable energy (MacKay, 2009). The author points at the necessity to be realistic about the possibilities for using each of the specified types, especially with regard to expensiveness of some of the options (MacKay, 2009).
  • Energy plans for the future sustainable strategy to be adopted by the United States and Great Britain are drawn. The carbon-tax revenue is included into the plan as one of the most viable solutions for reducing the pollution rates within the state (MacKay, 2009). In addition, possible negative effects of the incompliance with the strategy suggested above are outlined.

Technical chapters

  • MacKay provides a detailed analysis of the energy consumption by various devices, such as cars, as well as the production of certain types of energy, including solar energy.
  • The energy produced by various sources is estimated as well; specifically, the effect that windmills produce, the energy retrieved from sun, and the physics of deep-water waves is described in a very detailed manner with the key formulas and calculations provided.
  • In addition to the energy consumed by cars, MacKay considers other devices that require impressive amount of the latter, including planes, and the heating system accepted in most modern residential areas.
  • At this point MacKay makes a rather big lead in stating that energy, in fact, can be viewed as limitless when considering its retrieval from the sources that seem quite plentiful at present, such as the solar energy.
  • The concept of imported energy is viewed as a possibility by MacKay as well. According to the latter, carbon intensity can be used as the measure of “the footprint of each country’s worth of imports from country X” (MacKay, 2009, p. 335).

Useful data

  • The key SI units are listed so that the audience could convert various units into the standard ones.
  • Various prefixes indicating the amount of certain items are also provided in the give part of the book.
  • The so-called “annoying units” (i.e., the concepts and phenomena that the author finds annoying for some reason) are listed as well. The reasons for identifying the items as annoying are provided as well, therefore, creating a comic relief.
  • The “funny units,” which author acknowledges as such due to their seeming incompatibility with the subject matter (i.e., “cups of tea” (MacKay, 2009, p. 345)) are mentioned in the chapter as well.

Point of the Book

Bringing the issue of energy source and the concept of renewable resources, MacKay renders a range of topics that are related to the location of energy sources and the idea of unlimited energy. Apart from the latter, MacKay mentions the environmental concern in general and the increasing pollution of the environment in particular. For instance, a major part of Mackay’s book is devoted to the problems regarding the CO2 emission and the means of fighting the adverse effects of the latter. MacKay lists a range of suppositions regarding the methods of reducing the specified emission rates, starting from the tools that people have at their disposal in the 21st century and up to the concepts that are yet to be developed in the future: “If everyone in the UK that could, installed cavity wall insulation, we could cut carbon dioxide emissions by a huge 7 million tons. That’s enough carbon dioxide to fill nearly 40 million double-decker buses or fill the new Wembley stadium 900 times” (MacKay, 2009, p. 332).

As it has been stressed above, the book addresses the nature-vs.-nurture conflict in a rather direct and at the same time delicate manner as well. MacKay admits that there are limits to the natural resources that are used excessively nowadays and that the search for the alternative sources of energy is dictated not only by the scarcity of the natural ones, but also by the need to maintain the delicate balance that the nature exists in.

The book, therefore, addresses the key concerns raised in the lectures from a slightly different angle. In other words, MacKay outlines the technological issues, at the same time avoiding making the subject matter too specific; as a result, the author popularises the issue in question, spreading awareness and making the problem explicit and attracting people’s attention to it. The specified approach could be viewed as a more subtle attempt at outlining the environmental issues without making the message too obvious and, therefore, preachy.

Connection with the course

Though shedding much light on the technological aspect of the problem and providing a detailed analysis of the processes to be carried out for the retrieval of fuel, as well as the description of mechanisms that allow for the transformation of one type of energy into another one (Sanders & Fogle, 2013), the book by MacKay addresses a range of issues discussed in the lectures. The concept of environmentalism is also touched upon in Mackay’s book, though the author clearly shifts the emphasis from the issue of natural resources exhaustion to the pursuit of a model for reinventing the realm of energy production as people know it (Majumdar, 2012).

By linking the issue of resources preservation to the technological solutions that have been provided for addressing the specified issue so far, MacKay touches upon the process of energy transformation, therefore, mentioning the three levels, at which energy may exist (the potential state, the kinetic one, and the molecular energy (Kuravi, Trahan, Goswami, Rahman &. Stefanakos, 2013). This is another point of contact that the lectures provided in the course in question and the book evidently share; both attempt at analyzing the changes that occur to specific objects once their velocity or temperature changes (MacKay, 2009). One must admit, though, that there is a major gap between the manner, in which MacKay addresses the aforementioned issue and the way, in which the lectures handle the topic. While in the lectures, the key concepts concerning energy transformation are displayed in a very clear and rather eloquent manner, with detailed descriptions and a close analysis of the basic processes, the book provides a rather brief overview of the main concepts switching to the idea of renewable and non-renewable energy resources use rather fast. Therefore, MacKay’s book is clearly aimed at a general audience, whereas the lecture, while admittedly sharing a rage of similarities with the book, still address the problem of non-renewable resources in a more profound manner.

Furthermore, the book lacks introspect into the very concept of nature (Jacobson & Archer, 2012). Despite mentioning nature and environmental concerns briefly as well as discussing the subject of nature vs. nurture briefly, MacKay focuses on the technological issues rather than evaluates the effects that the supposedly positive (Elimelech & Phillip, 2011) solution is going to have on nature in general (Musango & Brent, 2011) and the climate change (Vliet, Vögele & Rubbelke, 2012), as well as the change of habitats (Commoner, 2014), in particular. As a result, the book lacks depth, as the author views the environment solely as the location of resources that can be used for enhancing the progress of the civilisation: “My cartoon Britain consumes energy in just three forms: heating, transport, and electricity” (MacKay, 2009, p. 116). Likewise, the types of heat, which have been discussed in a rather detailed manner in the lecture, are not represented in the book. MacKay, however, provides a different principle of heat classification, introducing the readers to the concepts of solar heat.

Nevertheless, there is a tangible synapse between the ideas mentioned in the lectures and the message that MacKay is trying to get across with the help of his book. Specifically, the need to introduce the principle of sustainability into the process of energy consumption must be mentioned. Indeed, according to MacKay, a sustainable approach towards the use and acquisition of energy is the key step towards designing new models for energy retrieval (Servaites, Ratner & Marks, 2011). Even though several alternatives exist at present, each of them is beyond unrealistic as a concept for mass production and state-wide use (such as solar batteries, for example). Consequently, the strategies that can be regarded as valid ones must be based on the sustainable and responsible use of resources.

Reference List

Commoner, B. (2014). The closing circle: Nature, man, and technology. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Elimelech, M. & Phillip, W. A. (2011). The future of seawater desalination: energy, technology, and the environment. Science, 333, 712–716.

Jacobson, M. Z. & Archer, C. L. (2012). Saturation wind power potential and its implications for wind energy. PNAS, 109(39), 15679–15684.

Kuravi, S., Trahan, J., Goswami, D. Y., Rahman, M. M. &. Stefanakos, E. K. (2013). Thermal energy storage technologies and systems for concentrating solar power plants. Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, 39, 285–319.

MacKay, D. J. C. (2009). Sustainable energy: Without the hot air. Cambridge, UK: UIT Cambridge Ltd.

MacKay, D. J. C. (2009a). Biography – David J.C. MacKay. Computer Science University of Toronto. Web.

MacKay, D. J. C. (2015). David J.C. MacKay FRS. The Inference Group. Web.

Majumdar, A. (2012). Opportunities and challenges for a sustainable energy future. Nature, 448, 294–303.

Musango, J. K. & Brent, A. C. (2011). A conceptual framework for energy technology sustainability assessment. Energy for Sustainable Development Journal, 15(1), 84-91.

Sanders, S. & Fogle, D. (2013). Energy transformations in the real world. Understanding by Design: Complete Collection. Paper 25. San Antonio, TX: Digital Commons & Trinity.

Servaites, J. D., Ratner, M. A. & Marks, T. J. (2011). Organic solar cells: A new look at traditional models. Energy & Environmental Science, 4, 4410–4422.

Vliet, M. T. H. v., Vögele, S., & Rubbelke, D. (2012). Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices. Environmental research Letters, 8, 1–10.