Sustainable energy - without the hot air

Sustainable energy - without the hot air

David J C MacKay 

Cambridge, UK: UIT 2008 | 384pp | ?19.99 (SB) ISBN 9780954452933  

Reviewed by Bernard Bulkin 

Our energy future requires some tough choices to be made. We are trying to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by a massive 80 per cent; achieve a measure of energy security; and maintain, even improve, our standard of living. David MacKay’s book helps us towards a rational approach to these decisions. Its scope is the sources and uses of energy in the UK, and in that it is comprehensive. 


There is a lot to love about this book. It is divided into several levels of information. There is a first set of chapters on uses such as cars, lighting, food and farming, and gadgets; and on sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectricity and geothermal. Each of these chapters is packed with information and assertions which are backed up by a detailed set of references.

Then there is another set of chapters that look at how we could change the current situation towards a more sustainable future. And finally a set of ’technical chapters’, giving the physics behind several of the sources and uses. Plus lots of supplementary data. Everything is available free on a website,

It is hard to compare energies, and there is a lot of misinformation. MacKay cuts through this by establishing some key metrics and putting everything on the same basis. All chemists will love him for the clarity of this approach.

If there is a criticism it is that he underestimates the potential for breakthroughs in chemistry and biology. But readers of Chemistry World  will fill those in for themselves. This is a great book for personal use or for teaching and is highly recommended.