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Must Reads for the Renewable Energy Insider

Posted by: chris
April 19, 2013

Blog by By Phil Friedman - SEI Online Course Manager 

Have you read a good book lately?  I might be biased, but SEI's new Solar Electric Handbook: Photovoltaic Fundamentals and Applications is currently at the top of my list of must reads.  As online course manager and occasional online instructor for SEI, I often review and interact in the course forum conversations. Often, I notice there are comments from students and instructors about books and articles they are reading. It is great fun and interesting to see what others are reading and what people recommend. Every so often, some of the recommendations overlap with what I am reading. That’s always a good feeling. Great minds think alike!

Over the winter, I had the good fortune (not to mention, some free time!) to have read three books about the intersection of policy, technology, and society and how they relate to energy. There are many books that cover this subject, but these three will give you the foundation needed to understand the energy issues that affect all of us.

Energy forms the basis of modern living and is tied to every country's economic, political, social, health, and environmental issues and policies. We need to examine and debate these and how our fossil fuel dependence ties them together. These books create that conversation.

The first book is The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Pulitzer Prize–winning author, Daniel Yergin. If you want to get a good, solid understanding of how energy really is the engine of global political and economic change and conflict this books tells it, starting with the fossil fuel era—on which our civilization has been built—to the carbon-free new energy economy that is competing to replace conventional fossil fuels.

There are insights about coal, oil, electricity, natural gas, and nuclear, as well as lengthy sections on the innovative and disruptive renewable technologies (wind, PV, solar thermal, biofuels, and others such as tidal and ocean current). In some locations such as California, Hawaii, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Spain, China, Japan, and Australia—renewable energy sources have become major players. Yergin explains how climate change has shaped the world's efforts to adopt carbon-free energy. If you want to understand energy history, politics, policy, and technology, I cannot think of another book that provides such a complete foundation.

My second suggestion is Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, by Amory Lovins. Don’t let the title fool you: this is no ordinary business book, even though “business” is in the title. Amory Lovins (the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Aspen, Colorado, just up the valley from our Carbondale offices, and an occasional collaborator with SEI) puts forth a detailed plan to transition to a carbon-free energy future.

If you can, imagine energy without contest or acrimony. Climate change mitigated. Oil spills no more. No dirty air. No energy poverty. No oil-fed wars, dictators, or terrorists. No leaking nuclear wastes or spreading nuclear weapons. Nothing to run out of. Nothing to cut off. Nothing to worry about. Pollution a memory. Just energy abundance, benign and affordable. Whew! Quite a prescription for future prosperity. This is what Reinventing Fire is about.

Lovins and his team of top-notch researchers show how this world is possible, even practical…and, yes, profitable. The premise being that saving and replacing fossil fuels is better and costs no more—or will cost no more in short order—than using them now. Reinventing Fire shows how businesses, government, civil society, and smart policy can eliminate oil and coal by 2050, and later—beyond that timeframe, even transition from natural gas to all renewables.

Regardless of your concern, be it national security, jobs, competitive advantage, or climate and the environment, the book’s premise and the innovations presented will inspire support and maybe even transform your sense of what is possible.

The last book is the most approachable and easiest read—but by no means less important. Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy-and Our Planet-from Dirty Energy, by Sungevity founder Danny Kennedy, shows how the “solar ascent” can be hastened by taking both the short and long view of solar implementation. Proof? Solar-generated electricity has risen exponentially in the last few years. The cumulative global installed solar PV capacity has topped the 100-gigawatt (GW) milestone (equal to 25 or more nuclear power plants) according to preliminary numbers from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association. The United States’ share of this is approximately 7.6 GW. Employment in the US solar industry has doubled since 2009—to more than 100,000 people nation-wide (2011 data) and there are now more than 5,000 solar-related business—most are small businesses—in the US alone. Meanwhile, electricity from coal has declined to a pre–World War II level. Any doubts that we are in an energy revolution?

Danny Kennedy systematically refutes the mistruths spread by solar opponents. We all know these mistruths: solar is expensive, inefficient, and unreliable; it is kept alive only by subsidies; it can’t be scaled; it’s not proven nor it is a future solution. Well on this last mistruth, if that is the case, then the future is now:  100-gigawatts is not chicken feed!

We need a rooftop revolution (think distributed generation) to break the entrenched power of coal, oil, nuclear, and gas industries. Building a Solar Ecosystem complete with robust technical, economic, workforce, social, political, and civil sectors can be done, Kennedy argues, and he states that it is happening now. Solar energy can create more jobs, return our nation to prosperity, and ensure the sustainability and safety of our planet. Amen!

Just search “solar PV gigawatts” and you get all the proof you need. Here is some of that proof!

And don’t forget to regularly read,,, and


Here is how to join in: we are past the Vernal Equinox, moving into spring. Summer is next…languid days, balmy nights. Maybe the beach beckons—summer reading anyone? So…get out the sun cream, find a comfortable chair, sharpen your mind, get these books, and get reading! You can add to this conversation on our Facebook page, Twitter, or, better yet, sign up for an online course, and join the forum.

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