Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines

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The near-meltdown of Fukushima, the upheavals in the Middle East, the BP oil rig explosion, and the looming reality of global warming have reminded the president and all U.S.
citizens that nothing has more impact on our lives than the supply of and demand for energy. Its procurement dominates our economy and foreign policy more than any other factor. But the “energy question” is more confusing,
contentious, and complicated than ever before. We need to know if nuclear power will ever really be safe. We need to know if solar and wind power will ever really be viable. And we desperately need to know if the natural gas deposits in Pennsylvania are a windfall of historic proportions or a false hope that will create more problems than solutions. Richard A. Muller provides all the answers in this must-read guide to our energy priorities now and in the coming years.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
UC-Berkeley physicist Muller (Physics for Future Presidents), who made headlines for first criticizing and then vindicating global warming research, explores the contentious issues that will increasingly preoccupy politicians and citizens, in this no-nonsense scientific primer on energy policy. Muller brings fresh, often contrarian perspectives to topics that have been saturated in misinformation and hype, arguing, for example, that new techniques to extract the stupendous reserves of petroleum in shale and tar sands will eliminate all talk of peak oil; that wind power and photovoltaics will boom while corn ethanol, geothermal, and tidal power will fizzle; that household energy conservation is a great investment, while public transit is usually a bad one; and that China’s soaring carbon dioxide emissions will render America’s almost irrelevant—and that the best way to abate China’s emissions is by switching from coal to natural gas. Especially revealing is his positive assessment of nuclear energy, which effectively debunks the alarmism surrounding the March 2011 Fukushima accident. The author’s explanations of the science underlying energy production are lucid but never simplistic—and often fascinating in their own right. Policy makers and casual readers alike can benefit from Muller’s eye-opening briefing, which sheds lots of light with little wasted heat. Photos. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Regarding the merits of clean energy technologies, eminent scientist Muller (Physics/Univ. of California, Berkeley; Physics for Future Presidents, 2008, etc.) offers a road map through the minefield of competing claims by security analysts, environmentalists and potential investors. The author distinguishes between concerns about a coming domestic oil shortage and the threat posed by global warming. The author explains that the necessity to import petroleum is a threat to military security and the major cause of the U.S. balance-of-trade deficit, but it is not a significant contributor to global warming. "As far as global warming is concerned," he writes, "the developed world is becoming irrelevant. Every 10 percent cut in US emissions is completely negated by 6 months of China's emission growth." Muller writes that a decent alternative would be a worldwide switch from coal to natural gas, which could halve the rate of carbon dioxide emissions. For the longer term, he anticipates that the developing sector will adopt nuclear power, employing small modular nuclear reactors that are designed to be intrinsically safe. Muller makes an intriguing case that for the U.S., extracting natural gas and oil from shale will be cost-effective, can be regulated to ensure environmental safety, and is a plentiful, untapped source of supply (substantiating his claim with a detailed overview of the technology). In his opinion, plug-in electric automobiles will prove unfeasible because of the time required to recharge them and the replacement cost of batteries, but hybrid vehicles that use gasoline or natural gas as fuel are an attractive option. An informative, comprehensive discussion of important economic and environmental issues.
From the Publisher
"An informative, comprehensive discussion of important economic and environmental issues." —Kirkus
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393081619
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/6/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 630,122
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard A. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the best-selling author of Physics for Future Presidents and The Instant Physicist. He lives in Berkeley.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Preface xv

Introduction 3

I Energy Catastrophes 9

1 Fukushima 11

Meltdown 11

Radioactive Release 15

Radioactivity and Death 17

The Denver Dose 20

Bottom Line: What Should We Do? 23

2 The Gulf Oil Spill 26

The Deepwater Horizon Accident 29

Damage 33

Iatrogenic Disease 35

3 Global Warming and Climate Change 38

A Brief Introduction to Global Warming 39

Tipping Points 50

Local Variability 52

Hurricanes 54

Tornadoes 56

Polar Warming 57

The Hockey Stick 60

Sea Level Rise 62

Assuming It Is a Threat-Can We Stop Global Warming? 65

Geoengineering 72

The Global-Warming Controversy 73

II The Energy Landscape 77

Recycled Energy 81

Energy Security 82

4 The Natural-Gas Windfall 87

Fracking and Horizontal Drilling 93

Shale Gas Reserves 96

Ocean Methane 98

5 Liquid Energy Security 102

Hubbert's Peak 105

6 Shale Oil 109

7 Energy Productivity 112

Invest for a 17.8% Annual Return, Tax-Free, with No Risk 114

Invest for a 209% Annual Return, Tax-Free, with No Risk 118

Government Energy Productivity Policy 119

Other Great Investments 123

Cool Roofs 123

More Efficient Autos 124

Energy-Efficient Refrigerators 126

The McKinsey Chart 127

Feel-Good Measures That Don't Necessarily Work 129

Buses 130

Recycling Paper 131

Power Blackouts 131

The Smart Grid 134

A Case Study: Smart Meters in California 135

III Alternative Energy 139

8 Solar Surge 145

The Physics of Sunlight 145

Solar Thermal 146

Photovoltaic Cells 150

Silicon 153

CdTe (Cadmium Telluride) 154

CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) 155

Multijunction Cells 157

Solar-Cell Summary 158

9 Wind 159

10 Energy Storage 167

Batteries 167

The Physics and Chemistry of Batteries 169

The Future of Batteries 170

Bottled Wind: Compressed-Air Energy Storage (CAES) 171

Flywheels 173

Supercapacitors 176

Hydrogen and Fuel Cells 177

Natural Gas 177

11 The Coming Explosion of Nuclear Power 179

Blowing Up 180

Cost 183

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors 185

Running Out of Uranium? 192

Fukushima Deaths 193

Nuclear Waste Storage 194

The Coming Nuclear Explosion 197

12 Fusion 199

Tokamak 201

NIF, the National Ignition Facility 205

Beam Fusion 207

Muon Fusion 210

Cold Fusion 213

13 Biofuels 219

Ethanol from Corn 220

Biodegradable Is Bad? 221

Pseudo-biofuels 222

Ethanol from Cellulose 223

Ethanol from Algae 225

14 Synfuel and High-Tech Fossil Fuels 227

Synfuel 228

Coal Bed Methane 231

Coal Bed Gasification 231

Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) 233

Oil Sands 234

15 Alternative Alternatives: Hydrogen, Geothermal, Tidal, and Wave Power 236

Hydrogen 236

Geothermal 239

Tidal Power 243

Wave Power 246

16 Electric Automobiles 248

The Electric Auto Fad 250

Tesla Roadster 251

Chevy Volt 252

Nissan Leaf 253

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles 254

Lead-Acid Batteries 255

Recharge Time 256

Effective Miles per Gallon 256

Ordinary Hybrids 258

Battery Challenges 259

17 Natural-Gas Automobiles 261

18 Fuel Cells 266

19 Clean Coal 273

IV What is Energy? 281

The Properties of Energy 281

Energy in Foods, Fuels, and Objects 281

Is Energy a Thing? 282

The Meaning of Energy 284

Energy as Taught to High School Students and College Freshmen 285

Energy as Taught to Sophomores 285

Energy as Taught to Juniors 286

Energy as Taught to Seniors and Graduates 286

The Beauty of Energy 288

V Advice for Future Presidents 291

Energy Technology Policy 294

Energy Productivity 294

Natural Gas 294

Shale Oil 294

Synfuel 295

Hybrids and Plug-in Hybrids 296

Nuclear 296

Key Considerations 297

Global Warming and China 297

More on Energy Productivity 299

Electric Power Grid and Venture Capitalism 301

Subsidies 301

Energy Catastrophes 301

Beware 302

Beware of Fads 302

Beware of Risk-Benefit Calculations 302

Beware of the Precautionary Principle 303

Beware of Optimism Bias and Skepticism Bias 303

Beware of Aphorisms 304

Your Legacy 305

Notes 307

Credits 323

Index 327

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