I believe we're witnessing a near perfect storm in the energy landscape, involving climate change, rapid development, and traditional resource scarcity. These forces will reorient the energy industry over the next several decades, and the following reading list is intended to provide any interested party with broad and deep perspective to better understand how the energy landscape will change. The list covers the basic science of thermodynamics, the history of energy technology, the history of the energy industry, modern energy technology, the science of climate change, and energy policy.
To understand energy technology, energy businesses, and energy policy, you must understand basic thermodynamics. As a great scholar I know once said, "Anyone who doesn't understand the first and second law while still opining on energy policy is a charlatan." For an introductory reference on classical thermodynamics, Van Ness's 103-page pamphlet is both terse and brilliant. In it, he explains the two fundamental laws of thermodynamics with great style and clarity.
Fermi's short thermodynamics text is also quite clear, but written at a higher technical level. The beginner should start with Van Ness and then read Fermi's work.
Smil, an internationally renowned energy scholar, traces the rise of civilization via humankind's use of energy--from manpower to beast of burden to coal, oil, and nuclear. He does a wonderful job demonstrating the centrality of energy use to the human condition.
This is an excellent reference on energy technology. It's particularly useful in covering many aspects of energy production and end use with a consistently rigorous approach.
Oil constitutes 35 percent of global primary energy use and is singularly important because of its near complete dominance of the transportation sector. Understanding energy means understanding oil, and The Prize is the definitive history of the oil industry. Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and founder of the prestigious energy consulting firm Cambridge Energy Research Associates, takes readers on a 150-year journey from the first oil well drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859 through the twentieth century.
In 2005, Simmons, founder of the boutique energy investment bank Simmons & Company, made the startling claim that Saudi Arabian oil production would soon peak. It's not clear if he was correct, but oil prices have skyrocketed and oil production has barely moved since 2005. In Twilight in the Desert, Simmons lays out his case that Saudi oil production is reaching its apex.
Coal is the primary fuel for electricity production, providing more than 50 percent of U.S. electricity. It's an attractive resource given its abundance in petroleum-poor nations such as the United States, China, and India, and the technical ease with which transportation fuels--particularly diesel--can be synthesized from it. On the other hand, it releases more units of carbon dioxide per unit of useful energy than any other fuel. Coal is going to play a central role in the coming battles over energy security and global warming. Thompson's book is a sober reference on the economics and geology of coal, which will be critical as the world grapples with the energy problem.
Climate change is the most vexing of the many energy-related problems facing the world today, and Archer, a geochemist at the University of Chicago, is one of the great contemporary scientists working on it. His book, adapted from a course that he has taught for several years, provides an excellent understanding of the basic physics and chemistry of climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared the 2007 Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore for good reason. The IPCC, which published its fourth assessment report in February 2007, is a singular example of international scientific cooperation. The panel evaluates and summarizes the technical literature on climate change. In particular, it publishes comprehensive reviews on the basic science of climate change (Working Group I reports), as well as the current thinking with regard to adaptation (Working Group 2) and mitigation (Working Group 3). These publications are an unparalleled reference on climate science.
The United States has failed to develop a long-lasting, comprehensive energy policy, but this report is an excellent attempt to provide policy makers with a template for such a policy. The National Commission on Energy Policy is a bipartisan group of 20 of the nation's leading energy experts from academia, government, industry, and environmental organizations. Its first report, published in 2004, is an excellent survey of energy policy topics and recommendations.
The National Petroleum Council (NPC), a federally chartered and privately funded advisory committee, was established in 1946 by President Harry S. Truman "to represent the views of the oil and natural gas industries in advising, informing, and making recommendations to the secretary of energy with respect to any matter relating to oil and natural gas." In 2007, the NPC published a comprehensive report on the state of the oil and gas industry, and the future of U.S. energy policy. The NPC has better access to technical analysis and data than almost anybody else in the world, and its members know first-hand how difficult it is to get large energy projects built. For these reasons, it is certainly worthwhile to learn what the NPC has to say.