The Future of Energy by Richard Black

294 1

Review by Annabel

Back in March, Shiny took part in the blogtour for Melville House’s initial books in its ‘Futures’ series. The first books in the series of small format paperbacks of short nf length, were on wideranging topics from …Songwriting by Kristin Hersh to the one I reviewed: The Future of Trust by Ros Taylor. In all the volumes, the authors were challenged to come up with ideas to get readers thinking and talking about their topics. I really enjoyed ...Trust, and now we have a new Government in the UK, it’ll be fascinating and hopefully a positive thing to see if and how Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party will help us reinstate faith and trust in the institutions that have suffered so in recent years.

July brings two new additions to the series, on The Future of Energy and The Self, and I was delighted to receive a copy of The Future of Energy by Richard Black to review. Black is a former science and environment correspondent for the BBC who went on to set up the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and now works in Berlin for Ember, a global clean energy think tank. He’s written a book on the subject previously: thus, he is eminently qualified to write on the subject.

I must declare a personal interest, in that over the past few years I have invested in an onshore wind farm in Scotland and a solar energy farm in the West Country. The wind farm is built, connected to the grid and running, so I will see the first reductions in my electricity bills this month! Sadly, my house, which, although built in the late 1970s, sits in what was the bottom of the garden of a much grander house – in a conservation area. Even if my roof faced south, solar panels would be very unlikely to be permitted, (satellite dishes on front elevations aren’t), and would need some work doing before installing a heat pump and replacing gas would be practicable, even if I could afford it. An electric vehicle (EV) is also not on the cards yet for me, although I wish I could do more. So I do what I reasonably can, and made my investment which, when the solar farm is switched on, should cover about all of my present electricity use.

Wind (particularly onshore wind) and solar are the key drivers of Black’s five-stranded clean energy proposal along with batteries, including increasing EV use, heat pumps, and hydrogen (from electrolysis and limited to certain applications mainly). Somewhat surprisingly, he makes it clear in his introduction, albeit reluctantly, that the key driver for them all is economics rather than climate change, which subsequent chapters discuss in more detail. He also states that nuclear power can’t play a role in this because of the ever-escalating costs and timeframes of building the large scale plants that still can’t make nuclear energy generation economic. The argument that many smaller plants could work is fallacious, as economies of scale, don’t lead to corresponding economies of efficiency and cost of building.

Given that this book is written as a personal view of the topic, Black writes with a direct personal style, telling us his beliefs and setting out the facts clearly for us. I particularly like his use of the term ‘contrarian’ rather than sceptic or denier for those, “dismal old men of energy and climate contrarianism, whose arguments turn up with depressing regularity in the pages of newspapers…”

He has a great sense of humour too which does lighten up the text, as in these quotes in which he laughs at some of those contrarian arguments,

You may have read, for example, that there is not enough lithium/cobalt/dysprosium/neodymium/kryptonite (delete as preferred) to build a clean energy system.

You may even have glimpsed my personal favourite from recent times, that electric cars are a no-no because they might make car parks collapse.

Oh, and I nearly forgot ‘the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine all the time’.

And I guffawed outwardly at this footnote:

I find myself laughing inwardly at my favourite Donald Trump joke. An exasperated Angela Merkel tells him, ‘You can’t send astronauts to the sun, they’d burn up.’ To which he replies, with all of his very stable genius, ‘What about if I send them at night?’

Enough! Getting back to the serious stuff, in support of his proposal of the five key clean energy technologies, Black gives us a potted history of the big energy companies, the big oil and gas producers, the formation of OPEC and where we are now. He argues that energy is a big part of conflict, and that self-sufficiency through clean energy will reduce it, taking away Putin’s Russian gas customers being held for ransom effectively for instance. He points out that China is now building solar farms at a great rate rather than coal-fired power stations too, and in areas of Africa which are not on the grid, solar panels increasingly power life’s essentials.

He states that the technology is here now, and getting cheaper all the time. It needs those in power to speed up and open up the planning process, it needs the Government to help industry plan ahead by being firm with phase-out dates and the like. It needs us to do our bit too of course.

The 155 pages of text are supported by a list of further reading, websites to visit for up-to-date figures of those quoted in the text, plus extensive references. The occasional footnotes give asides and definitions, etc..

I could only find myself agreeing with everything Richard Black says in this little book, which was thought-provoking and ultimately optimistic, with some qualifications, naturally.

Shiny New Books Logo

Annabel is a Co-Founder and of editor of Shiny New Books.

Richard Black, The Future of Energy, (Melville House, 2024). 978-1911545712, 183 pp., flapped paperback.

BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link (free UK P&P)

1 comment

Do tell us what you think - thank you.