Review of Fanchi: Energy in the 21st Century

I received a note about this book coming out in the mail; not sure where they got my name, but it seemed interesting so I ordered it. Read on for my review (recently printed in the Huntsville (AL) Times).  

John R. Fanchi: Energy In The 21st Century, World Scientific (March, 2005) 243 pp, $26 (list price).

This book is a general-audience version of Fanchi's 2004 college textbook "Energy: Technology and Directions for the Future" and as such is a reasonably neutral look at most of the energy challenges and options we have in the coming century. Fanchi does cover most of the major points in detail, but I found the coverage lacking in imagination - and in some cases already made obsolete by the recent rise in oil prices.

Fanchi toes the line with a very conventional treatment of these issues - for example, using national energy intensity numbers to indicate energy efficiency without mentioning any of the caveats involved, or over-emphasizing energy density in a treatment of the usefulness of different types of fuel. Worst in this regard is the long discussion of hydrogen without making very clear why hydrogen isn't an energy source like crude oil.

The book also contains some real errors - some minor (our sun is good for billions, not just millions, of years) but some more significant. Decay of nuclear waste is not accelerated by sitting in water. Use of biomass for fuel need make no net contribution to greenhouse gases, but Fanchi states these emissions "are as important to biomass consumption as they are to fossil fuel consumption".

The book does convey some of the basic issues in energy technology for the coming century at a publicly accessible level. For the most part the images and tables are simple and used effectively, although some are not fully explained. The book is a quick read thanks to a large font and line-spacing. It also ends with some informative points on economics and forecasting, and an interesting comparison between some projections of future energy use and supply, suggesting there is still a lot we don't know.

Created: 2005-09-24 01:28:16 by Arthur Smith