Physics of Sustainable Energy: Using Energy Efficiently and Producing It Renewably

David Hafemeister, Barbara G. Levi, Mark D Levine, and Peter Schwartz, eds. (Melville, NY: AIP Conference Proceedings 1044, 2008) ISBN 978-0-7354-0572-1, ix + 438 pp. $239.

During a recent press conference held at the National Press Club to unveil the APS Energy Efficiency Report, former APS President Burton Richter remarked that this time, the energy crisis is "for real" (APS News, October 2008). Policies, practices, and technologies for renewably producing and efficiently using energy will play a significant role in addressing the challenges of energy supply; the volume under review here is thus both timely and relevant.

This volume is a collection of papers presented at an AIPsponsored short course held at UC-Berkeley on 1-2 March 2008. This course was intended to give physicists the in-depth technical background needed to teach about energy options or to become involved in energy research. The course attracted 260 attendees from academia, industry, and government. Readers familiar with energy issues will be familiar with the names of the editors, particularly that of David Hafemeister, whose Physics of Societal Issues was reviewed by this writer in this column in July 2007; the two volumes could probably be considered companions. As might be expected of a volume of conference proceedings, the styles of individual papers vary widely; this is not a conventional text or monograph and so cannot be read or reviewed as such.

The contributions are divided into four sections: Policies for Sustainable Energy (5 papers), Energy Use in Buildings, Appliances, and Industry (11), Energy Use by Automobiles (5), and Electricity from Renewable Energy (7). A few of the contributions are reproduced from other sources such as Physics Today. In some cases reproductions of Power-Point slides are somewhat fuzzy, but readers are directed to a website where originals can be accessed. A series of appendices include an Energy and Environment Chronology that covers events from the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859 to events in 2008, a series of "Energy Outlook" graphs from the U. S. Energy Information Administration on oil reserves, electric power generation, U.S. energy production/ consumption and related issues for the time period 1980-2030, a list of World Wide Web energy sites, and an extensive table of units. The latter is marred in places, however, with what should clearly have been Greek letters being published as their English counterparts.

Flipping through this book gave me a sense of the breadth of activity on the frontiers of energy research: contributions include studies of water supply and its relation to energy security, the energy efficiency of Chinese industry, historical trends in average energy consumption, price and size of domestic refrigerators, systems analysis of heat flow in buildings, LEDs for solid-state lighting, the physics of glazings for energy-efficient windows, air quality in urban heat-islands, standby-mode energy consumption of household appliances, microbolometers for infrared cameras, electric batteries and hydrogen storage systems for vehicles, relationships between vehicle weight and crash survivability for a variety of cars and trucks, solar-energy conversion efficiency, wind-energy technology, carbon-capture methods, and biofuels. Readers with a broad command of undergraduate physics should be able to understand most of the contributions. The encouraging thing is that is that progress is happening in so many areas; the difficulty is that it will take time to bring these new technologies to significant levels of market penetration against the inertial forces of existing infrastructures, production techniques, vested political interests, and economic fluctuations. I was disappointed to see only one brief paper on the future role of nuclear energy, which must be considered as a significant intermediate-term large-scale source of energy.

The take-home message from this volume is best expressed by contributor Robert Socolow of Princeton University in his paper on Stabilization Wedges and Climate Change. His remark was with respect to mitigating CO2 emissions, but applies to the whole issue of producing energy renewably and using it efficiently: "What once seemed too hard has become what simply must be done."

In summary, while the contributions in this volume are for the most part too brief to facilitate their use as tutorials to learn the fundamentals of a topic from the bottom up, they will be of interest to scientists curious to get a sense of the broad spectrum of research in a number of energy-related areas. However, at a list price of $239, you might want to have your library order it. Finally, it should be noted that this review was prepared before I was appointed P&S Editor.

Cameron Reed
Department of Physics
Alma College, Alma, MI 48801

This contribution has not been peer-refereed. It represents solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of APS.