NS Book Review: The Geopolitics of Energy: Achieving a Just and Sustainable Energy Distribution by 2040

The Geopolitics of Energy: Achieving a Just and Sustainable Energy Distribution by 2040

A Nuclear Street Book Review By Randy Brich

The Geopolitics of Energy: Achieving a Just and Sustainable Energy Distribution by 2040Geologists by profession but living and writing more like natural philosophers, Judith Wright and James Conca weave a masterful prediction of the future of energy into a short quick read.  Primarily intended for non-technical audiences, The Geopolitics of Energy: Achieving a Just and Sustainable Energy Distribution by 2040, epitomizes the thinking person’s approach to energy generation, distribution and usage.  Recognizing that global energy usage will increase dramatically over the next three decades, primarily due to the technological evolution of developing countries, Wright and Conca note:

Global electrical energy consumption recently passed 15 trillion kilowatt-hours per year and is projected to more than double by 2040.

Acknowledging that no contemporary book on energy can ignore the question of climate change, Wright and Conca astutely observe:

Whether one believes in global warming is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that the fifty largest insurance companies, with over $5 trillion in coverage have altered their risk forecasts based upon climate change models. … Therefore, CO2 emissions have become as important as costs in the development and application of energy sources.

The authors identify the obvious shortcomings of the current global energy mix as they highlight the environmental and national security perils of continued reliance on fossil fuels.  Given that peak oil will happen by 2015 or sooner, Wright and Conca persuasively argue that alternatives must be developed now, before the impending twofold crisis – a dramatic increase in energy usage worldwide and a depletion of conventional oil reserves as global mobility intensifies -- occurs.

Their solution embraces a careful, conscientious and constructive approach to future energy generation, distribution and usage.  Following a brief description of all available options, Wright and Conca assemble the pieces of the energy puzzle creating a masterpiece fit for the future.

Equitably slicing the energy distribution pie into its three logical source components -- fossil, alternative and nuclear -- Wright and Conca demonstrate the feasibility of a balanced approach to solving the impending energy crisis. Maintaining fossil fuel usage at its current amount necessitates the development of alternative and nuclear sources.  Regarding the 2/3 non-fossil fuel portion of the world’s future energy mix, the authors determine:

By 2040, the world must have:
a. 3 million 3+ MW wind turbines or equivalent totaling 3 trillion kWhrs/year
b. Concentrated and ordinary solar arrays totaling 3 trillion kWhrs/year
c. 1,700 new nuclear reactors to produce electricity totaling 10 trillion kWhrs/year and to produce hydrogen for fuel cells
d. 100 bbl/yr of biofuels from algae, cellulosics and high-efficiency biomass
e. 3 trillion kWhrs/year from other alternatives such as wave, tidal and biogas.

Summarizing the current state of the art on the above mentioned technologies Wright and Conca create a conceptual blueprint for future energy production.  Making recommendations for improving the various technologies, they focus specifically on nuclear (which with the new Administration’s recent decision to halt work at Yucca Mountain is especially timely). You can read more about that decision here: President Obama Abandons Yucca Mountain

Regarding the “intractable” high level waste problem, Wright and Conca note:

The operating deep geologic nuclear repository in New Mexico has proven that underground disposal of radioactive waste is safe and cost effective. … The Salado Formation salt can take any type of nuclear waste, and has enough capacity for all the nuclear waste that could be produced for the next ten thousand years.

Regarding the future of nuclear power they prophetically perceive:

A crucial aspect about nuclear, is that simpler is better.  Three reactors around a recycling facility can power a single metropolis or region for over 50 years…one can be an ordinary power reactor for optimal energy production, one can be a fast reactor to burn the actinides in the recycled fuel, producing electricity and making the final waste even less hazardous, and one can be a high-temperature reactor to produce hydrogen for auto fuel cells.

Unfortunately, books containing a lot of numbers inevitably have some errors and the first printing of this book was no exception.  However, the recent printing contains an errata sheet detailing corrections.  Hopefully, others currently embarked on improving the nation’s energy supply will read this book and recognize that this aggressive, yet balanced approach needs to be initiated now to ensure energy and national security for the future.

Judith Wright and James Conca
99pp.  BookSurge Publishing. $24.99.

Randy BrichAbout Randy Brich
Randy graduated from South Dakota State University in 1978 with a M.S. in Biology.  After developing the State of South Dakota’s environmental radiological monitoring program, he became a Health Physicist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, eventually transferring to the Department of Energy where he specialized in environmental monitoring, worker protection, waste cleanup and systems biology.  Later in his career he published a multi-sport adventure guide book and became a regular contributor to The Entertainer Newspaper’s Great Outdoor section. 

Since then he has retired from the federal government and, after taking time out to build an energy efficient house near the Missouri River, has formed Diamond B Communications LLC.  Diamond B Communications LLC uses a multimedia approach to explain complex energy resource issues to technical and non-technical audiences.  He also guides for Dakota Bike Tours, the Relaxed Adventure Company, offering tours of the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills and Devils Tower National Monument.

If you have questions, comments, or know of a book that you think Randy should review Email Randy Brich>> randy@nuclearstreet.com

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  • Anonymous

    What a great intro - I look fwd to reading the book, better yet sharing it with my colleagues/students.  From the review it would appear that finally someone has captured in layman's terms the true essence of the grand challenge of energy security and also offers plausible solutions as well.  The timing is perfect to institute a balanced national energy portfolio which includes nuclear /fossil/renewable energy.  Know Nukes.