Read Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us by Maggie Koerth-Baker Online


What you need to know now about America's energy future"Hi, I'm the United States and I'm an oil-oholic." We have an energy problem. And everybody knows it, even if we can't all agree on what, specifically, the problem is. Rising costs, changing climate, peaking oil, foreign oil, public safety--if the fears are this complicated, then the solutions are bound to be even moreWhat you need to know now about America's energy future"Hi, I'm the United States and I'm an oil-oholic." We have an energy problem. And everybody knows it, even if we can't all agree on what, specifically, the problem is. Rising costs, changing climate, peaking oil, foreign oil, public safety--if the fears are this complicated, then the solutions are bound to be even more confusing. Maggie Koerth-Baker--science editor at the award-winning blog makes some sense out of the madness. Over the next 20 years, we'll be forced to cut 20 quadrillion BTU worth of fossil fuels from our energy budget, by wasting less and investing in alternatives. To make it work, we'll need to radically change the energy systems that have shaped our lives for 100 years. And the result will be neither business-as-usual, nor a hippie utopia. Koerth-Baker explains what we can do, what we can't do, and why "The Solution" is really a lot of solutions working together. This isn't about planting a tree, buying a Prius, and proving that you're a good person. Economics and social incentives got us a country full of gas-guzzling cars, long commutes, inefficient houses, and coal-fired power plants out in the middle of nowhere, and economics and incentives will be the things that build our new world. Ultimately, change is inevitable.Argues we're not going to solve the energy problem by convincing everyone to live like it's 1900 because that's not a good thing. Instead of reverting to the past, we have to build a future where we get energy from new places, use it in new ways, and do more with less.Clean coal? Natural gas? Nuclear? Electric cars? We'll need them all. When you look at the numbers, you'll find that we'll still be using fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables for decades to come. Looks at new battery technology, smart grids, passive buildings, decentralized generation, clean coal, and carbon sequestration. These are buzzwords now, but they'll be a part of your world soon. For many people, they already are.Written by the cutting edge Science Editor for Boing Boing, one of the ten most popular blogs in America...

Title : Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780470876251
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us Reviews

  • Guy
    2018-11-08 15:49

    I wanted to rate this book higher than two stars, because I like the author's writing style, humor, and intelligence, and because I share many of her assessments and goals, but I can't because it lives up neither to its own aspirations nor to what readers attracted to such a book need. "What you need to know about America's energy future" is its slogan. Well, unless what you need to know is that the future is inherently unknowable and is likely to be a messy mixture of old and new glued together with a lot of muddling through, then this book does not deliver. It's not that Koerth-Baker is wrong -- the future is unknowable and energy in America will be a messy mixture -- but rather that there is much more to say and that to be effective it needs to be said as part of a coherent narrative.And that's the primary problem with the book: it isn't really a book in the sense of a coherent narrative at all -- it's more like a collection of magazine articles (whereby most chapters are made up of more than one "article"). As such, it suffers from problems typical of such collections: some overlap and repetition, insufficient depth, over-reliance on anecdotes, and a lack of an overarching structure and plan. There are actually quite a few interesting insights in the book, but I doubt that most readers will be able to remember many of them. It isn't necessary to be quite as obsessively structured as Amory Lovin's "Reinventing Fire", which addresses many of the same issues (and which has its own, but different, problems), but you can't structure a book as a random walk through interesting topics and expect that your readers are going to retain much.In addition, for a book that vigorously asserts that individual action is not going to solve our problems, that the biggest problems are those of infrastructure ("shared systems"), and that top down approaches are crucial, it is astounding that the words "public policy" only occur once (in an end-note) and that practically nothing is said of the role that the US government can/will/must play. It is as if there are no higher level organizations than townships, NGOs, companies (generally fairly small and innovative), and military bases. The author is from the Midwest and a distinctly midwestern ethos of small-town self-reliance pervades the book. Nothing wrong with that when the problems to be dealt with are those that a small town can deal with... but that's not the case here, as the author herself says.Bottom line: disappointing.

  • Edward
    2018-10-24 15:53

    This is a book I would never have discovered nor read on my own (not that it's not worthwhile), had it not been given to me by a contractor who was working on our house. He's an intelligent guy who must have thought there was a important gap in my knowledge of such matters. He was right about that. I'm aware that we have an energy crisis - too much dependence on polluting and limited fossil fuels - and that the solution lies in alternative forms of energy besides continuing to burn up our supply of coal and oil. What I wasn't aware of, and this books makes very clear, is that there is no simple solution to our energy crisis. Wind, solar, nuclear power - they all have drawbacks and limitations. The future of energy creation and distribution is a complicated one, and there is no one source of energy that is ideal. Wind power, to use one example, is intermittent, and is often most productive at night when the energy needs of an industrial country like the United States are least. How to save this energy? It is possible through the use of special batteries, but as of yet, we haven't invested much in that technology. Some of the same concerns are evident with solar energy. Nuclear energy poses its own problems, a chief one being where to dispose of the spent fusion materials. No one has provided a good answer yet.Then, there are the problems of integrating all of these forms of energy into one grid. Not a simple matter, the solution is complex and expensive. In the course of discussing how energy, mostly electricity, is moved around, the author gives a good historical background, going back to Thomas Edison and the 19th century. Koerth-Baker emphasizes repeatedly that no single approach to our energy crisis is enough.The book is divided into 13 chapter, easy to read, even chatty, and they almost seem to have been written as separate articles, although there is no acknowledgment that this is the case. It's certainly not a technical book, but a good introduction to a subject that I doubt most people have thought much about.

  • Maria
    2018-11-01 16:39

    I heard about this book through, of which Maggie Koerth-Baker is a regular contributor. This work is her summation of the structure of the United States' energy production and distribution systems, and also her ideas about how we're going to have to adapt both in a hotter, more expensive, more populated word in the coming years.I haven't taken a science or math class in 10+ years, but I found this book very easy and enjoyable to read. It's also short - I finished it in a few days - but it crams a lot of information into its pages. It's written in a clear style and intended for the average reader who is concerned about energy use but doesn't know much about how it's made or consumed in the US. Koerth-Baker manages to describe very complex systems - how we make our energy, how it moves across the country, how it stacks up against the use of other nations - in very easy-to-understand ways.Usually debates about energy and/or climate get polarized and indignant pretty quickly. This book is mostly about the former, and Koerth-Baker manages to keep discussion surrounding energy politically neutral for pretty much the whole book, which is to be commended. Instead of looking at this issue from a "put a sweater on" vs. "drill, baby, drill!" perspective, Koerth-Baker looks at why diversifying our energy sources and improving our distribution infrastructure in a smart, engineered way will be better economically on a local scale, will allow us to continue to grow and prosper as a nation without depriving ourselves of modern comforts, and will avoid sticking future generations with a hot, destroyed planet and a messed-up power grid that can't handle growing population and energy use. Her solutions are a refreshingly rational and pragmatic contribution to a debate that usually centers around name-calling and political posturing.The only problem I had with this book was its sudden ending. It lacked a summary about what we should be doing, collectively or through individual actions, to bring about the changes she discusses. I'm hoping the absence of this section is because she's got another book in the works that will address this.

  • Nathaniel
    2018-11-03 13:57

    Worth reading for a more nuanced view of how the electrical grid is cobbled together, and the factors that complicate any major effort at improving or replacing it. I was particularly struck by the discussion of how the unpredictable nature of most renewables places a low ceiling (~25%) on the total percentage of power generation they can provide, at least without major changes in both grid decentralization and storage, neither of which are easy or cheap.The writing works very hard to be broadly accessible, which is too bad. It could have been more entertaining and moved a bit faster if she were willing to assume a little more wonkiness of her readers. I learned a fair bit, though.

  • Tim
    2018-11-08 11:02

    A must-read for anyone who thinks they understand how energy is used in the US, or is interested in doing something about it.Maggie presents a clear picture of the situation that we find ourselves in, and explains quite a few things about energy use, creation, distribution, and people's attitudes toward energy that not everyone understands.

  • Wes
    2018-11-11 12:43

    A good overview of our current energy usage and where we need to go in the future. Sadly, even though it was written in 2012, it's out of date - the cost of petroleum has dropped as has the cost of solar panels. Battery storage has improved too. That said it's a decent read. It's a 6 due to being outdated and because I have a high standard for science books and she's no Mary Roach!

  • Harris
    2018-10-23 09:35

    I first became aware of this book when I saw author Maggie Koerth-Baker speak about the looming issues of our complicated, bloated, and inefficient power grid as part of the hilarious Theater of Public Policy improv at Huge Theater in Minneapolis. Koerth-Baker was an engaging speaker and really raised my awareness about energy issues. Granted, I had been interested in the environmental background of alternative energy, sustainability, “peak oil,” and all of those other green catchwords, but “Before the Lights Go Out” provided great background and introduction to a lot of the complex problems facing our current American energy culture. Problems that cannot be solved simply by buying energy efficient light bulbs, the book explores many ideas developing, including making entire houses or neighborhoods more efficient. This was really brought to as I read the book during the latest heat wave, my air conditioner pumping at full bore to keep my apartment at a tolerable temperature. A fascinating read, Koerth-Baker crosses the country interviewing people from the “grid controllers” in Texas to biofuel experimenters in Madelia, Minnesota. While not going into too much depth on any one aspect of these interrelated topics, her writing is engaging and fun, never dragging these occasionally dry technical topics into dullness. In addition to sketching out our current power grid and power sources (coal, oil, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro) with all of its inefficiencies, weaknesses, and issues, she discusses some of the interesting alternatives that are being developed. Refreshingly, Koerth-Baker maintains an optimism throughout that, in spite of a lot of challenges, it is likely that we could face these challenges in energy demand and engineer solutions to some of them. In particular, a mixture of new alternative sources, making traditional sources more efficient in the meantime, and decentralizing production. While none of these problems will be solved by one “magical” solution, and nothing is ever perfect, with some cooperation and ingenuity we can move into the next stage of the energy revolution. I really learned a lot that I had not known before and would highly recommend this casual, informative science read.

  • DeAnna Knippling
    2018-11-19 10:04

    A thin book that contains mind-changing information and a basis for discussion for energy policy in a non-partisan way.--I generally try to critique books based on whether they achieved what they set out to achieve, and if I solely based it on that, it's be a five-star book. But. It seemed like the goal of this book was to present the complexity of the energy issue, and it did so in an overly simplistic manner. Maybe I just can't explain this properly. But if you want to present how overwhelmingly complex the situation is, and how urgent, should the book in the end give the impression that it's all okay, we can do this, no problemo? I can point to lots of places where she says things that say "it's not going to be easy," but the tone of the book is a bunch of feel-good pablum. Maybe this wasn't the book for me. I already buy into the idea that we need to spend money on infrastructure and efficiency. But I felt talked down to, pumped up - manipulated. I recommend it - it's a decent introduction to the conversation. But it's not there to provide more than a primer, if that.

  • Derrick Schneider
    2018-10-20 13:41

    While there's good information here, the writing style constantly disrupts the reading flow. Metaphors that are either weak or stretched too thin for too long. The author continually telling not showing ("... text ... This is important." Shouldn't the point be clear enough that you don't need to take special pains to point it out?). Some descriptions that are overly detailed while others skip over probable lacunae in the reader's mind. And a lot of the author talking about the experts rather than letting them speak for themselves (The most egregious example: Re carbon capture, she says "I trust all of these safeguards." Who cares? Do all the experts trust them?)

  • Tim
    2018-11-18 10:58

    I read this book because I wanted to become smarter about where energy comes from and what our energy future might look like. I was familiar with and enjoyed Maggie Koerth-Baker's science writing at BoingBoing, so this book seemed like a great place to start. It is a very good primer on understanding the nuanced world of power generation and distribution. As a result of having read it, I am smarter about these things and feel that I can have an intelligent conversation about alternative energy's promises and limitations. Success.

  • Science For The People
    2018-11-02 10:03

    Featured on Skeptically Speaking show #160 on April 14, 2012, during an interview with author Maggie Koerth-Baker. on Skeptically Speaking show #193 on December 21, 2012, on our special Book Review episode. This book was reviewed by Jim Kakalios and the review can be heard starting at timestamp 00:30:19.

  • Andrew Ragland
    2018-11-06 09:49

    Strongly recommended. Koerth-Baker puts into clear and lucid terms the challenges facing us, and avoids polemic and politics along the way. This is a factual book, not a diatribe. It discusses the situation, gives massive amounts of background and context, and analyzes the possible outcomes in a rational, scientific way. Do not expect this book to support your viewpoint, no matter what it may be. Expect this book to make you think about your views.

  • Jeremy
    2018-11-10 17:03

    Ok...did not have as much actionable info as I had hoped & stresses large scale policy changes instead of what people can do on their own. I agree that if we are going to "fix" the problems we have as a whole we need to address them as a group but that's not going to stop me from taking steps to make sure my family is insulated from the negative effects of too many people wasting too much energy.

  • Matt
    2018-11-12 15:59

    There were some interesting things in this book about the electric grid that I didn't know. Coolest idea: using electric cars's batteries (while the cars are parked and plugged in) to even out fluctuations in the grid caused by intermittent generation from wind and solar. Overall, glad to have read it, but the writing was too chatty for my taste. Apparently what I like in a blog post is not what I want in a full length book.

  • Bastian Greshake Tzovaras
    2018-10-23 12:59

    Yes, it's US centric, but given the fact that the US is amongst the top energy-consumers & a top driver of climate change it's worth a read if you're interested in learning about todays challenges in (clean) energy. Plus most things (centralized production, grid structure etc.) work quite similar in Europe as well.

  • Luke
    2018-11-04 15:52

    Squandered its potential a bit. Maggie's smart and the book is passionate and well-researched, but her prose is conversational to a fault. The book spends about 75% of its pages in vague cheerleading and problem-defining mode before it gets to specific examples of people/companies trying to move towards the future with innovative ideas and tech.

  • Tim Corrigan
    2018-11-06 11:03

    I might just be the wrong audience here, but I found some of the points a little off technically... some of it I think coming from a mistake in emphasis that stems from not enough in depth knowledge about the problems. Actually, I was definitely the wrong audience. But I agree with the author in most points, I just don't feel like she sold it well.

  • Scott Pakudaitis
    2018-11-11 13:35

    Fascinating book on a complex subject. The author does a great job explaining the nuances of our power grid, energy policies, pros and cons of energy sources, and methods of power transmission and distribution. I'm curious how advances in technology (like Tesla's battery) since the book's publication will affect our energy future.

  • Trisha
    2018-10-27 14:55

    If you know little about energy and electricity, I would definitely read this book. If you have some experience in the energy field (as I do) you may find this a little basic, but still an informative and enjoyable read.

  • Jacquelyn
    2018-11-16 12:50

    Excellent book for everyone who cares about the future of energy use. Diligently explains that there is no magic bullet to save us, but rather a combination of current and better technologies and infrastructure changes can revamp our energy use to build a sustainably powered future.

  • Samuel
    2018-11-15 13:55

    The author does a pretty good job of going through all of the issues affecting our energy consumption, but it's all written from the perspective of a layperson, which is good or bad depending on how familiar one is with the technologies and issues. The usage of BTUs in the book was infuriating.

  • Scott Bischke
    2018-10-23 10:56

    +sreality checkgreat writingfun attitudeholistic look at the situationmarveling at issues engineers deal with daily-sreality checkoften simplisticcould have used more editingneeded tables and graphsmarveling at issues engineers deal with daily

  • Marjori
    2018-11-19 16:42

    A lot of research and examples were put into this book. Just felt it was a little too long to just be speaking about the US. Examples and comparisons to continents other than Europe would have been much more interesting.

  • Elizabeth
    2018-11-08 09:53

    Maggie Koerth-Baker is one of my new favorite tweeple.

  • Aloysius
    2018-11-16 11:45

    An overview of the domestic energy production and distribution of the US, and a look at some of the solutions to the problem of climate change that are involving revamps of said energy distribution.

  • Mike
    2018-10-23 11:58

    Worth a read. For as much as I love the idea of 100% clean energy, this book was a wake-up call for the size and type of investment that will be required to make that possible.

  • Steve
    2018-11-03 10:52

    Good information about an important topic, though the organization and presentation could have been a little more effective.

  • Patrick
    2018-11-13 10:46

    Overview of the energy crisis in the U.S.

  • Nick B
    2018-10-23 13:49

    Quick, easy read. Maggie provides practical ideas to a seemingly overwhelming issue.

  • Brian
    2018-10-23 18:05

    This book taught me stuff about energy that took the top of my head clean off. I found my way to Maggie Koerth-Baker from her writing at She's super.