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The Solar Economy: Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Global Future

by Hermann Scheer, published by Earthscan Publications (2004-06-30)

Buy now from Amazon.com for $35.00
Amazon rating of 3.5 out of 5, Amazon sales rank: 189231

Editor's Review:

The global economy and our way of life are based on the exploitation of fossil fuels, which not only threaten massive environmental and social disruption through global warming but, at present rates of consumption, will run out within decades, causing huge industrial dislocation and economic collapse. Even before then, the conflicts it causes in the Middle East and elsewhere will be frighteningly exacerbated.

The alternate exists: renewable energy from renewable sources – above all, solar. Substituting renewable for fossil resources will take a new industrial revolution to avert the worst of the damage and establish a new international order.

It can be done, and it can be done in time. The Solar Economy, by one of the world’s most effective analysts and advocates, lays out the blueprints, showing how the political, economic and technological challenges can be met using indigenous, renewable and universally available resources, and the enormous opportunities and benefits that will flow from doing so.

Reader Reviews:

The first time I tried to read this book, it confused me so much I had to put it down for a year. The author mixes a paragraph or two of insight and vision within pages of example and data. On, this my second, read I am doing better by skimming past the long lists of examples.
I would love to see this book boiled down to about 20 pages, with another 20 of optional documentation.
What the author does for the reader is lay out the foundation of the modern energy system, and its hidden costs. In great detail. Then he addresses the technical aspect of several different forms of "solar" or renewable energy technologies, and their potential.
I am learning quite a bit, even if I have to take it in small dosesScheer's previous work on this matter was entitled "A Solar Manifesto". That should give you a pretty accurate idea as to his opinions on the matter. If you looking for a somewhat-balanced view of the coming renewable energy economy, look elsewhere (for example, Hawken's "Natural Capitalism"). If you looking for a neo-Luddite environmentalist rant, this book is exactly what you are looking for.

There are numerous flaws in Scheer's reasoning. For example,

1: He repeatedly calls lack of taxes a "subsidy".

2: He ignores that the most promising photovoltaic technologies are based on things like titanium and ruthenium, which are not renewable and by his own data are in short supply. Even in the best case they are a complex technology that requires big, centralized plants to product (reasonably) cheaply.

3: He a priori dismisses anything big or centralized.

4: He considers a system that uses more human labor a GOOD thing.

5: In 325 pages, he never mentions the cost of PV in $$/kwh, because it would undermine his point.

6: He repeatedly insults everyone who isn't in his camp. The word "blind" must appear a hundred times in this work.

I think the greatest example of Scheer's muddled thinking is the final sentence of the book.

"Renewable resources will bring a new era of wealth-creating economic development - initiated not by bureaucratic fiat, but by the free choices of individuals".

I think many people would agree with this. Now, if Scheer hadn't spent the previous two chapters describing in detail the many bureaucratic fiats he wanted in order to enforce his ends upon free people, he may actually finished his book with a coherent point.

From a little earlier...

"Instead [eco-taxation proposals] must be founded on a clearly articulated strategy to drive nuclear and fossil fuel out of the market...

At least he is honest.

Hermann Scheer has written the most important book of the 21st Century. Yes, that's right -- either we follow this path to a sustainable future, or it is the path not taken as we head into a cycle of civilizational decline, chaos and devastation. The #1 priority in the U.S. right now is regime change -- the Bush/Cheney Regime is dead-set against renewable energy. But in the medium term, a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, centered on solar energy, is humanity's #1 priority. Scheer has masterfully critiqued the fossil fuel status quo and outlined what needs to be done in this powerful, technically-based, yet compelling manifesto for change. This is one book on energy that will not put you to sleep!

There is far too much here to summarize, but here are a few critical points:

1) The conventional wisdom that says solar and other renewables are too expensive are systematically biased by both the current massive subsidies for fossil fuels and what is left out in calculating the cost of fossil fuels. All it will take to drive down the cost of PV (photovoltaic solar) is ramping up production. Of course massive investment in R&D is also urgently needed to realize greater efficiency. (Scheer is well-equipped for this analysis -- his Ph.D. is in economics.)

2) Fossil fuels of necessity require long supply chains, as they do not occur everywhere, and this entails both inefficiency and higher cost. Solar, wind, biomass and other renewables can be developed locally just about anywhere -- solar energy in principle needs no supply chain at all. The development of a decentralized renewable energy system globally will, in addition to being environmentally sustainable, ultimately be much cheaper than the current centralized fossil fuel system.

3) The battle is already on -- Scheer (an SPD Member of Parliament in Germany) and others have successfully passed legislation in Germany and elsewhere mandating that the electricity grid buy power from locally generated renewable sources. This is a revolutionary reform that has yet to be realized in the U.S., but it is coming, with wind power leading the way. (Howard Geller's ENERGY REVOLUTION is an excellent guide to policy change in the U.S. -- see my review.) Do not believe any sweeping claim about the costs and benefits of renewable energy -- increasing numbers of us can benefit starting now, but there will clearly be losers, and that will include the powerful fossil fuel corporations that don't join the process (BP and Shell are already starting to hedge their bets). It is going to be a fight, a revolution as sweeping as any yet in human existence, comparable only to the shift to agriculture and the shift to industrial manufacturing.

What is needed is a mass movement that works on all levels to bring about the change. Hermann Scheer's THE SOLAR ECONOMY is the manifesto and guide for this movement. For the moment, Europe is clearly in the lead. We in the U.S. need to catch up quickly and start to build a new front inside the U.S. Leviathan -- planetary change will not work if the U.S., the 3rd most populous country and the largest consumer of energy and everything else, does not join the process.

With the Hubbert Peak for oil coming no later than 2020 time is short -- if we want to demonstrate that having evolved such large brains is really an advantage, we have to start using them. The future is clear -- it's either barbarism or a solar economy!

See my OVERSHOOT AND COLLAPSE? list for more on oil and energy.
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See also:
Wind Energy Basics: A Guide to Small and Micro Wind Systems (Real Goods Solar Living Book)

Real Goods Solar Living Sourcebook-12th Edition : The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies & Sustainable Living (Real Goods Solar Living Sourcebook)

The Energy Efficient Home: A Manual for Saving Fuel and Using Solar, Wood, and Wind Power (Plume Book)

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