Power Plays is Published


Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil

My new book — Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil — has been published. A press release issued last week describes the book in some detail:

Robert Rapier Reflects on Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil in his Latest Book

Here I want to describe a bit about the evolution of the book, discuss what’s in it, and finally provide contact information for reviewers who would like a copy.

It was less than a year ago that I was contacted by Jeff Olson, a Senior Editor at Apress, which is a division of the large global publisher Springer about writing “a book for educated laypeople on today’s energy issues.” I had been contacted a couple of times previously about writing a book, but the timing wasn’t right for various reasons. This time, I felt like I could pull it off, and around the first of August 2011 I actually sat down to write the first words. Eight months and 272 pages later, it was published.

I knew some of the things I wanted to cover if I ever wrote a book, so I just started to write and began to organize things later on. I think the final product is very balanced; most people would not describe this as a liberal book or a conservative book, but rather a book that highlights the pros and cons of energy policies from across the political spectrum. Far right conservatives will likely see it as liberal book, and far left liberals will see it as a conservative book, but I think 80% of the people in between the extremes will see it as apolitical.

It took several iterations to settle on the final Table of Contents, but here is the finalized ToC, with a short synopsis of each chapter:

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. All About Energy: Dependence and Disconnect

This chapter explains why energy is important in our lives, and gives a brief overview of topics such as “Energy Misconceptions” and “Energy Politics” that are covered in more detail later in the book. I also list some of the questions that the book will answer.

Chapter 2. Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power: Powering Modern Civilization

This is the first of three chapters that give background information on the energy sources we utilize. This chapter covers the history of oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power, and discusses production and consumption numbers for several countries. I try to put our energy usage into recognizable context, such as the number of times the largest domed stadium in the world could be filled with the world’s daily oil consumption.

Chapter 3. Renewable Energy: Energy of the Past and the Future

I start out this chapter by discussing some of the nuances of sustainability and renewable energy, and then I cover major sources of renewable energy such as biomass, wind, solar power, hydropower, and geothermal power. There is a sidebar in this chapter on Energy, Power, and Units of Measurement.

Chapter 4. Energy Production: From the Source to the Consumer

The previous two chapters described various sources of energy as well as production and consumption rates, and this chapter gets into how some of the fossil energy sources are produced. Safety and environmental considerations are discussed. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the trade-offs from fracking are covered. There are sidebars on Oil Shale Development and Methane Hydrates.

Chapter 5. Global Warming: How Do You Stop a Hurricane?

This is the first of a few chapters that get into more controversial subject matter. This chapter discusses the science behind climate change, and looks at the challenging prospects for reining in carbon emissions. I explain some of the arguments made by both proponents and opponents of the idea the humans are primarily responsible for climate change. To be crystal clear, this is not a chapter that attempts to make a case for or against manmade climate change, but is instead an attempt to explain to readers why different sides have taken the positions they have taken. It is my attempt to shed light on the debate itself without arguing just one side. I take a close look at the emissions and emissions growth around the world, which I think will be eye-opening for many readers. There is a sidebar on Sulfur Trading Markets, which examines whether they are a good model for carbon emissions trading.

Chapter 6. Peak Oil: Myth or Threat to Civilization?

I first talk about the history of peak oil — including some mythology surrounding M. King Hubbert’s 1956 prediction of when oil would peak in the U.S. Hint: He was actually skeptical that oil would peak in 1970, even though he is widely credited with “nailing” the 1970 peak. I discuss what peak oil really is, some of the misconceptions, the probable consequences, the Peak Lite and Long Recession concepts, and some of the criticisms of peak oil. There are sidebars called Peak Oil: It’s All About Flow Rates and Net Energy and Government Reports on Peak Oil.

Chapter 7. Nuclear Power: Practical Solution or Environmental Disaster?

This chapter looks at the history of nuclear power, and contrasts and compares opposing viewpoints. Nuclear accidents are discussed, and the concept of risk assessments is discussed in some detail. There are sidebars called How Nuclear Power Works and Thorium Reactors and Fusion Power.

Chapter 8. Risk and Uncertainty: Energy Security Challenges

Here I cover some of the major threats to energy security besides peak oil. I write about OPEC, growing oil consumption from emerging countries, and the implications of declining energy return on energy invested (EROEI). The concept of EROEI is explained in some detail, along with the caveats that should be understood in order to properly use it as a tool. There is a sidebar called Overstated OPEC Reserves?

Chapter 9. Reducing the Risks: Policies to Enhance Energy Security

Here I focus on several ideas that could help move countries away from dependence on imported oil – and ultimately fossil fuels in general – while also making sure energy supplies are adequate during the transition. I talk about fossil fuel taxes, proposals that would fund alternative energy and mass transit using some government revenues from oil production, and the need for an Open Fuel Standard. There are sidebars called How Much Oil? and The Price of Energy.

Chapter 10. Investing in Cleantech: A Guide to Technical Due Diligence

This chapter is a guide for those wishing to sort out hype from reality, particularly when dealing with alternative energy technologies. The steps required to take an idea all the way through to commercialization are discussed, and the challenges are highlighted. There are sidebars called Levels of Scale and The Challenge of Scaling Up.

Chapter 11. The Race to Replace Oil: Alternative Transportation Fuels

This covers many of the contenders to replace oil, including methanol, ethanol, mixed alcohols, DME, natural gas, drop-in gasoline replacements, and distillate replacements. There are sidebars called The Zubrin Experiment: Methanol Versus Gasoline and The Pickens Plan.

Chapter 12. Oil-Free Transportation: Alternatives to the Internal Combustion Engine

This chapter covers another major piece of the puzzle to replace oil: Transportation that is independent or largely independent of oil. The chapter covers hybrids, electric cars, electric rail, bicycling, and walkable communities. There are sidebars called Plug-In Hybrids, Fuel Cell Vehicles, A Developing Nation, and Elasticity of Transportation Supply.

Chapter 13. Corn Ethanol: Past, Present, and Future

This chapter covers the history of ethanol policy in the U.S., discusses some of the controversies surrounding the use of corn ethanol as fuel, and lays out some specific ideas that would make the industry more sustainable in the long-term. There are sidebars on The MTBE Phase-Out and E85 Case Study: Iowa.

Chapter 14. U.S. Energy Politics: The Elusive Goal of Energy Independence

This chapter covers the history of energy policy in the U.S. over the past eight presidential administrations. I discuss what worked and what failed and why the overall result was an escalation in the level of dependence on imported oil. I draw parallels between the current resurgence of oil under the Obama Administration with the resurgence that took place during the Carter Administration. There are sidebars called Political Games with the SPR and The Keystone Pipeline Debate.

Chapter 15. The Road Ahead: Planning and Preparation

In this chapter, I summarize and explain the three tenets that drive my views on energy and the environment. I emphasize the uncertainty of the future, and of the need to have contingency planning based on various possible outcomes.

What I am really trying to do with the book is to get people to think about energy in a different way. I want people to understand that all of our energy options require trade-offs, and sometimes we aren’t even aware of what those trade-offs entail. In the process of trying to drive that point home, I try to shed light on some of the more controversial energy issues, and provide interesting energy trivia for readers.

If you want to arrange a review copy of the book, or would like to get in touch with me over the book, please contact Sadhika Salariya, sadhikasalariya(at)apress(dot)com or phone her at 202-620-8061.

Thanks for Your Support

In closing, I want to thank my regular readers as well as the audience at The Oil Drum both for the support you have shown, and the feedback that helped make this a stronger book. I have learned so much over the past few years through interactions with readers, and I hope to continue those lively discussions for many years to come.