Delivering environmental information clearly – Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air

One of the best read that I had over the summer was David MacKay’s Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. The book (which you can download for free from his website) is easy to follow, clear and a very interesting analysis of the options open to the UK in terms of energy provision in a way that is sustainable and without reliance on fossil fuel.

David MacKay’s analysis covers the issue of energy both on the consumption and generation sides. It runs through a whole series of options by using lots of very intelligent and elegant ‘back of envelope’ calculations that show what the reasonable assumptions are for each source of energy and for its use.

What is especially fantastic with this book is the way in which a fairly complex environmental issue is made accessible through several means.

Firstly, the whole book is based on a single measure (kWh/day per person), which is explained clearly up front and then used throughout the book. This makes it easy to compare the different options.

Secondly, the book uses a clear visualisation of stack-bars to show how the different options of consumption and production add up.

Thirdly, the book is made of two parts – an easy–to-access first part, without the detailed scientific references and backing material that would make it difficult to understand, but with enough information to understand how each assertion is made. For interested readers there are technical chapters that provide all the scientific details towards the end of the book.

Altogether, it is a masterpiece of environmental information communication, which is very rare, unfortunately.


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