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Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  1,365 ratings  ·  156 reviews
Addressing the sustainable energy crisis in an objective manner, this enlightening book analyzes the relevant numbers and organizes a plan for change on both a personal level and an international scale—for Europe, the United States, and the world. In case study format, this informative reference answers questions surrounding nuclear energy, the potential of sustainable fos ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 1st 2009 by UIT Cambridge Ltd. (first published December 1st 2008)
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Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Note: if you want to read this book for free, there are now excellent HTML and PDF versions at The print version is very well produced, however, and I didn't at all regret the £20 I paid for it.

Jessica posted a great review of Six Degrees a couple of days ago, with a memorable opening sentence:
Reading this book was like meeting someone, falling madly in love, and finding out she's got a terminal illness, all in the space of twenty mi
Oct 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Windfarms are becoming big business in Australia and a Senate enquiry report has just come out looking at the implications, including, most importantly, health.

You can see the whole thing here:

The aspect of health that is most likely to be affected by windfarms is the psychological and physiological debilitation resulting from noise pollution and the report observes, in attempting to hear from all interested parties:

The Committee did not receive any evid
Aaron Gertler
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes, you just want numbers. And in this case, the numbers are free. Free!

Worm, my favorite book of 2014, featured (mild spoiler) a man whose power was organization: The bigger and more complicated the plan, the better. He becomes a villain when the government rejects his brilliant strategy to solve world hunger.

David MacKay is the nonfictional version of this. He tells you facts, then more facts, then combines the facts into a plan that would clearly work, if only everyone would cooper
Vivek Aithal
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If there is one question this book answers, it is this - Can we even sustain out current lifestyle with renewable energy? You may not like the answer. For anyone even remotely serious about climate change, this book clarifies all the skepticism around it, with data. SEWTHA is an excellent resource to understand how different strategies for renewable energy play out, and how beneficial they are. David creates 2 stacks - one for consumption and one for production and illustrates how we can reduce ...more
Jan 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
An excellent book that lives up to its title if not its aim. If you want to understand what a comparably affluent, post-carbon, green future based on renewable energy might look like... and what we'd have to do to get there... then read this book. It makes clear that the problems (global warming, peak fossil fuels) we are faced with will require country-sized solutions (literally!)... and that most of the energy sources that are touted as solutions are in fact of negligable impact (biofuels, I'm ...more
Dec 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Available for free:

Highly recommended! Book is highly accesisble and provides a great introduction to the topic. If you belong to a group of people not believing in (antrophogenic or not) global warming you still can read it - the issues is carefully decoupled from global warming.

It's crucial that we educate ourselves about this topic.

I've read the book after seeing a talk from Hermann Scheer (who passed away this year). Although I have to learn about his wor
Bartosz Pranczke
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This book feels like an engineering textbook. And this is exactly how we should approach the subject. Data, numbers, and calculations without ethics and interests. I'd love to live in a world where this is the way we talk about serious issues. But I understand this also makes this book probably unreadable or unenjoyable for the majority of our society.

This is also one of the saddest books I've read.
It was released in 2008 and sustainable energy was a serious issue then. In the book, there are
Helen (Helena/Nell)
Aug 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Available free from

Hey, my first free book. It took me a very long time to get around to reading it, and even now there's bits where I crumbled because it was a bit hard for me. But I think it's an amazing piece of work. Mackay has the ability to cut clean through obfuscation and do simple things with numbers. I wish I could do this. He put me in a position where I could think about some of the things that have been baffling me for years.

And he has a sense of humou
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I skimmed this book for the first time in college, as a supplementary reading for a course. This book was the one which started my journey into sustainable energy. This time I liked this book so much more because this book is not only full of clear, concise information but also it presents a way of teaching facts that are contrary to the common belief, especially climate change.

An easy yet eye-opening read. The only thing I don't fully subscribe is to the author's strong optimism. (Still, the au
Apr 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The import of this book is best summed up in Mackay's own words:

"This heated (environmental) debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates, people just say “Nuclear is a money pit” or “We have a huge amount of wave and wind.” The trouble with this sort of language is that it’s not sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the o
Apr 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: enviro, science, favorites
This is a terrific book for anyone interested in learning about the shape of our world's energy production. What's unique about the book is how MacKay analyzes the problem of sustainable energy. His calculation is emphatically not the state of the art; it is, in fact, deliberately crude. Any old university, environmental group or coal power trade organization is likely to have more sophisticated energy models and predictions -- with their own assumptions buried deep within. MacKay's book aims to ...more
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reliance on fossil fuels for energy production can present multiple problems. First, fossil fuels are a finite resource. Second, capricious changes in foreign politics can jeopardize security of energy supply and economic stability. Third, fossil fuels alter the climate and cause global warming (unless someone happens to deny human-caused global warming). An obvious solution could be the broader use of sustainable energy sources within a country's energy production. The author, Professor Sir Dav ...more
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful, calculation-based overview on moving toward greener energy sources. The physicist author sets aside all social debates on choosing cleaner power sources, so the book is strictly focused on the physical possibilities for decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions. It does an excellent, clear job of explaining options to the lay reader. In order to understand why cleaner energy options are not already in place, the reader would need to search elsewhere, though, for sources on the economy ...more
Sandeep Tammu
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
Manny wrote a beautiful sentence outlining the summary of the book.

Reading this book was like meeting someone, falling madly in love, and finding out she's got a terminal illness, all in the space of twenty minutes.

We know that there is no way we can sustain our energy needs by burning more fossil fuels. This book carefully analyses each renewable energy source, and stacks them against the fossil fuels that we burn. Unfortunately, any single renewable source like solar or wind is not sustainabl
Farid Hasanov
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book for anyone, who is interested on how alternative energy supply and potential benefits can be quantified. Reader can get an understanding, perhaps approximate, of how much energy can be derived from the renewable sources, how this compares to the current demand(author has taken as an example England - but the physics of process remains the same everywhere), and how much area will need to be covered in order to satisfy the daily needs of typical person. That's definitely the type of inf ...more
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great analysis on energy consumption / production, technical where it needs to be but not excessively so. Five stars.
Victor Samuel
May 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
We’ve heard the buzz of energy saving. “Plugging off your unused charger can save the planet,” says a green-colored poster in your town. Or your colleague bragged, “I became veggie because of scientific reason: energy and carbon footprint.” Then questions might have popped in your head. “Is it true? Can all those things save the world? Or are they just another hoax made up by environmental hippies?”

We’ve also heard conflicting claims from experts within the energy debates. “All we need are rene
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: energy
David MacKay FRS is a professor of physics at Cambridge University who has written a very good textbook on information theory. He was bugged by the omnipresent illiterate claims about energy and the environment, for instance, that one can save a significant amount of energy by unplugging the mobile phone charger when it is not being used (yes, you'll save about as much energy in a day as a car consumes in a second), and decided to write a book that would get the facts straight. In this book, Pro ...more
Sreejith Puthanpurayil
Aug 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A book I should have read a long time ago before wasting so much time on wishful thinking about renewable energy such as offshore wind, solar etc. The author compares our energy sinks on the one side (transport, heating, manufacturing etc) and our sustainable (lasting at least a 1000 years), zero carbon energy sources on the other, by converting both to a simple common metric (kWh/person/day) and see if they add up. The goal is to see whether we can maintain our current levels of energy use (Eur ...more
Adam Marischuk
Apr 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics, debate, science
Professor MacKay died in 2016 from stomach cancer and the website that offers this book for free has not been updated since then ( which is unfortunate to say the least. It seems to me that the website was designed to encourage people to buy and read the print book. Perhaps some enterprising engineer, computer technicial or physicist could take up the mantle and cleanup the webpage.

There is a lot to enjoy in this book. The graphs are excellent and pertinent. The way the
Andrej Karpathy
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book offers a great overview of issues surrounding Energy policy in the UK (and the world). There is a lot of analysis of the various renewable energy sources and their potential of helping us replace fossil fuels over the next few decades. Economics of every choice is only briefly touched on, however. Still, the book offers a nice and fairly exhaustive exploration of our options and lays out most of the issues surrounding the implementation. David MacKay (author) is also first and foremost ...more
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book I have read on this subject

Taking into account that this book is written in 2008. For me the presentation using Kw/day/person is something not explained before. I now know the future uphill struggle to persuade people and government change to renewables . This book is for the person who is willing to take time in understanding the basic energy units . For me it is above the usual treehugging books written with little understanding of the subject. It will be a book I will return to for
Eric McLean
Jun 25, 2012 rated it liked it
I learned a lot reading this book, but I didn't really enjoy it because I am NOT a science major. I did enjoy that the book is completely free, though. Overall, this is informative but I feel like there may be some heavy biases and inconsistencies coming from the British author. He goes on and on about how doing little things won't make a difference and then talks about unplugging "vampires" that suck energy while they are off (saving a few dollars a year). Really? Anyway, a decent read. ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
If you ever wanted to know what it would actually look like for us to obtain all of our energy sustainably, this is a must read. It is a little dry, and in the appendix, even gets into some hard core physics calculations, but it is very well researched and it is free on the author's website. ...more
Jun 20, 2011 added it
I like how this book focuses on the numbers involved in making environmentally sustainable choices. Too many other writings argue on the basis of qualitative evidence.

Available for free at !
Grace Li
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
David MacKay takes concepts that are abstract and enormous in scale and distills it to a framework for the general audience to understand. Very informative read! He also does a decent amount of math, which is cool.
Sam Dotson
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it

MacKay offered an excellent introduction to the complex and intertwining issues surrounding sustainable energy. Inexperienced but curious readers will find it elucidating. For more experienced readers, this book serves as a nice refresher course and good practice.

I would recommend this book to anyone with at least a passing interest in energy and climate change.

David MacKay is a British physicist and treats the twin issues of energy and climate change as physicists are trained to treat most
BeezR Good
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A clear decision to award this book 5 stars.
The author breaks down a serious subject into accessible understandable chunks and even manages to employ humour at time. The book also does not waffle, and stays on track to it's nominated goal - putting the reader straight on the rough facts on a issue which effects everyone on Earth, but is understood by very few.

It's often said that a particular book is a "must read for everybody". Well, this time the author & publisher have anticipated and prepare
Vincent Ho
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a book! It is well organised, informative and most importantly, Mackay manages to set out a comprehensive picture of the energy challenge without any political bias! In the first chapter, readers have been taken through the main areas of energy lost. From heating for homes to driving, numbers play a important role in conveying the truth. With technical chapters at the back, one can delve into the physics behind all these, I particularly enjoy reading them as they resonate with the knowledge ...more
Alexander Lawson

The book (available for free at analyzes the UK’s energy consumption and then assesses the feasibility of supplying its energy needs renewably without impacting the quality of life. I recommend it to people interested in energy policy and climate change.

It produces 6 energy plans for the UK and concludes that the UK (and Europe) cannot obtain its energy needs renewably without importing 10-20% of its supply from sunny sparsely populated places (e.g. African desert
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David MacKay was a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge. He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and then obtained his PhD in Computation and Neural Systems at the California Institute of Technology. He returned to Cambridge as a Royal Society research fellow at Darwin College. He was internationally known for his research in machine learning, information theory, ...more

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30 likes · 12 comments
“This heated (environmental) debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates, people just say “Nuclear is a money pit” or “We have a huge amount of wave and wind.” The trouble with this sort of language is that it’s not sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one “huge” compares with another “huge,” namely our huge energy consumption. To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives.” 4 likes
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