Initial Publication Date: October 28, 2010

Alternative Energy book jacket
Climate and Energy Webinar Series: December 10, 2010
Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

Time - 10:00 am Pacific | 11:00 am Mountain | 12:00 pm Central | 1:00 pm Eastern
Duration - 1 hour
Format - Online discussion via phone and Elluminate web software on the book described below.
Goals- To facilitate a discussion of alternative energy topics as presented by this book and to share ideas of how concepts from this book can translate into our own courses.
Registration - Registration is required to save a space (and because space is limited to 10, be sure you can commit before registering). Registration closes when the spaces fill or one week before each event, whichever comes first. There is no registration fee. For questions contact Karin Kirk or Katryn Wiese (kkirk at or katryn.wiese at

Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, 2009, David MacKay

online version of this book | see this book at Amazon

This book is a 384-page paperback published by UIT Cambridge Ltd. February 20, 2009. 

Book description from

"Addressing the sustainable energy crisis in an objective manner, this enlightening book analyzes the relevant numbers and organizes a plan for change on both a personal level and an international scale"for Europe, the United States, and the world. In case study format, this informative reference answers questions surrounding nuclear energy, the potential of sustainable fossil fuels, and the possibilities of sharing renewable power with foreign countries. While underlining the difficulty of minimizing consumption, the tone remains positive as it debunks misinformation and clearly explains the calculations of expenditure per person to encourage people to make individual changes that will benefit the world at large."

David MacKay is a professor in the department of physics at Cambridge University, a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Climate Change, and a regular lecturer on sustainable energy.

Resources from the book:

Related Links from the Book Club Discussion

References Specific to the Book Club Session

Key Themes from the Book Club Discussion

  • How much electrical generation does each state use per capita? And where does our own electrical generation come from primarily? These questions allowed us to look, online, real-time, at multiple data sources and compare and contrast among different US states. We discussed what a great activity this could be for our students to help them make these topics relevant and to generate conversations about explanations for the variations among states. For example -- natural gas usage for heating, high electrical needs for transport of things such as water, the observation that urban areas have lower per-capita energy use, exporting of electricity to other states, electricity pricing designed to provide incentives for lower electricity usage.
  • Glenn Richard proposed designing an activity based in part on some graphics from this book. We discussed what this activity might look like. His proposal: students use various fossil fuel use scenarios for different countries to predict possible effects on future concentrations of atmospheric CO2. This would be based on combining the following resources: 1) MacKay, chart of population of countries versus greenhouse gas pollution per capita per year. 2) Google Earth to study climate and other conditions in various countries that might affect energy use patterns. 3) BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2010 4) An activity that Don Weidner and Glenn have done in classes in which students use a modified version of the BP spreadsheet to predict the future of oil consumption and reserves 5) An activity that Don Weidner and Glenn have done in classes and assigned as homework in which students use spreadsheet calculations to predict concentrations of atmospheric CO2 if we burn all proved oil reserves.
  • How many of us get push back from affluent students or parents when energy conservation methods are discussed? Turns out a few of us received that push back and responded in numerous ways, including having students see it more as a cost-savings plan (rather than remarking on lifestyle changes). It was also acknowledged that students pushed back less than parents. (Some got angry phone calls from parents in a K-12 setting.) Some advice given was to allow the students to encourage each other, so the message was coming more from within. Other advice included looking at school energy consumption instead of personal energy consumption. And.. using the book's images and graphs to get students to think and discuss energy usage / lifestyle changes in other countries and how that can affect total consumption.
  • Energy efficiency and energy independence are topics that provide lots of common ground. Conversely, climate change is a topic that has been polarizing. This is illustrated by public opinion research such as Global Warming's Six Americas
  • Book's pluses: The whole book plus the figures is freely available; the "myth busters" approach is accessible for intro non-science major students (especially the comparison of bird deaths associated with windmills compared the orders of magnitude more killed yearly by cats); good quantitative comparisons of cost for new renewables vs current budget costs (and thus seeing how the numbers seem large on their own, but in comparison to other places where we spend $, not so much).
  • Book's minuses: UK focus (although some people appreciated the global view and the island location as a great place to discuss this problem, others got complaints from students about the language).
  • The book repeatedly makes the point that alternative energy requires a lot of space and will be distributed in many locations across the landscape. This invites the "NIMBY" (not in my back yard) conundrum. We discussed the "free lunch" misconception, in that there is no source of energy that is free from drawbacks and people have to accept that.
  • Solar power was surprisingly economical and required less space than original thought. We discussed the maps and data and compared solar projects in Australia, including the newest largest project in the world.