The quest to keep the campfire burning

Energy Studies. First Edition - Introduction to Energy
May 28, 1999

Energy matters. Without energy, nothing happens. With enough energy, anything is possible. These are simply physical, chemical and biological facts. However, since the discovery of fire, human society has been faced with broader and more complex concerns over the use of energy. The fundamental question is, how can we secure and maintain adequate, sustainable and economic sources of energy?

Human ingenuity has devised numerous tools for clarifying this energy question and for developing timely, if temporary solutions. The basis must, of course, be technical understanding. However, a more complete perspective, encompassing economic, social and environmental considerations, is essential if appropriate, lasting solutions are to be found.

A sound technological basis is provided by Energy Studies , which adopts a technical and mathematical approach familiar to natural science and engineering undergraduate students. Explanations of the concepts and principles of energy, power and conversion processes are clear and well organised. As such, this is a good teaching text and work of reference on the strictly technological features of depletable and renewable energy sources. The style is easy to read and material is drawn from Britain and the United States. However, by concentrating almost exclusively on technical issues, the book does not achieve the goal it has set for those who seek to explore the energy question, namely, "to address such a fundamental problem, it is vitally important that all of the various elements comprising the problem are well understood". Unfortunately, coverage of economic, social and environmental aspects is far too brief.

Introduction to Energy does not fail in this regard since it combines technical understanding with a stimulating introduction to the wider aspects of the energy debate. This book more than achieves its aims as a multi-disciplinary textbook for a range of undergraduate students. Apart from basic thermodynamics and the principles of energy conversion, essential aspects of resource assessment, energy economics, environmental studies, technological development and decision-making are covered in depth.

The contrast between the traditionally technocratic and radically interdisciplinary approaches is clearly apparent in these two books. Whereas Energy Studies adopts a firm linkage between energy consumption and economic growth, Introduction to Energy presents the arguments over this important issue, which, after a debate lasting 25 years, has resulted in its widespread rejection by most serious analysts in the field.

Despite their strengths, both books share some weaknesses, including the use of units that will mystify many students outside Britain and the US, and a significant lack of material on energy developments in other countries.

Nigel Mortimer is professor of sustainable energy development, Sheffield Hallam University.

Energy Studies. First Edition

Editor - W. Shepherd and D. W. Shepherd
ISBN - 1 86094 042 0
Publisher - Imperial College Press
Price - £33.00
Pages - 403

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