A QUESTION OF POWER: Electricity and Wealth of Nations.
By Robert Bryce. PublicAffairs | 352 pages | $28
Robert Bryce has been writing about renewable energy for years, first at the Austin Chronicle, then later for the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the National Review. Recently, he worked at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
On the issue of whether fossil fuel-induced climate change is dangerous, Bryce identifies himself as an agnostic. In other words, he’s not sure whether it poses a severe threat. But when analyzing the approaches to clean energy advocated by environmentalists, he has very definite opinions.
As the title of his book suggests, Bryce says that nations can only become wealthy when they have reliable power. In the 19th century, coal fueled the Industrial Revolution, and the wealth of the individual increased dramatically. This continued in the 20th-century Information Age, with oil as the fuel.
Today, natural gas and some renewables have been added to the mix. Bryce makes this current by describing two visits he made to undeveloped countries. He describes a Puerto Rican family that uses a gasoline-powered generator so that their children can study at night. Power theft is frequent. Across the world, an Indian women rejoices at a recent development: reliable power. She didn’t have that when growing up. Lack of nighttime light kept her from studying enough to get into college. Now, her daughter will be able to attend. This theme is developed later in the book: Electrification has freed many women from the drudgery of the household and allowed them to better themselves.
More generally, Bryce presents data that show the relationship between electrification and national wealth. In the United States, President Franklin Roosevelt led the charge for rural electrification and established the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. At the time, utility monopolies run by wealthy businessmen like Samuel Insull were a major issue for the country. Congress broke up these monopolies by passing the legislation authored by Sam Rayburn, Burton Wheeler and George Norris.
The roots of Zero Carbon Energy by 2050 and the Green New Deal go back to a paper by Mark Jacobsen of Stanford and others that proposed an all-renewable solution to world power generation. However, the work was debunked by Christopher Clack, whose work in the 2010s showed that land requirements were completely unrealistic. For example, the proposed 2.5 terawatts of wind energy for the U.S. would require a land area the size of California. Physicist David MaCay of Cambridge University also criticized Jacobsen’s work, saying: “I love renewables, but I’m also pro arithmetic.”
Despite the fatal flaws in the idea of totally carbon-free energy, it has become gospel for…
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