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Ian Abley Energise - The Future for Energy Innovation, James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky, Beautiful Books, 2009
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1. Nicholas Stern, The Economics of Climate Change, London, HM Treasury, 2006

2. John Maynard Keynes, Preface to the German edition, 7 September 1936, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, London, Palgrave, 2007, first published 1936, Macmillan Cambridge University Press

3. Enrico Fermi, Thermodynamics, New York, Dover Publications Inc, 2000, first published 1956

4. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, 'The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism', published in Le Figaro, Paris, 20 February 1909, in Umbro Apollonio, editor, Futurist Manifestos, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Publications, 2001, p 19 to 24

5. Richard Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, New York, Simon and Shuster, Southern Illinois University Press, 1969

6. www.fuelcells.org

7. www.rigb.org

8. International Vacuum Insulation Symposium 2009, archived here

9. Ian Abley, 'Development Rights for the Hydrogen-Fuelled Future', chapter 18 in Ian Abley and James Heartfield, editors, Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-machine Age, Chichester, Wiley Academy, 2001, p 210 to 227

10. Kasimir Malevich, 'Bespredmetnoye tvorchestvo i Suprematism', published in Desyataya Gosudarstvennaya Vuistavka, Moscow, 1919, quoted in Camilla Gray, The Russian Experiment in Art - 1863-1922, London, Thames and Hudson, 1998, page 219, first published 1962

Manmade Modular Megastructures Why is construction so backward?Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age




James WoudhuysenJoe Kaplinsky

Energ!se the future now, say James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky

James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky, Energ!se - A Future for Energy Innovation, London, Beautiful Books, 2009

Buy Energ!se: A future for energy innovation, for £5.99 from Amazon

Energ!se is '… a riposte to the endless doctrine that you are personally responsible for climate change and must curb your consumption of energy.' (p 6) James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky refuse to stoop to either environmentalism or scepticism in the tedious exchange of rhetoric and statistics over policies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. (p 7) The authors accept that climate change exists, and is largely man made. (p 16) Robert Revelle was right in 1956 that mankind has inadvertently performed a planetary experiment. (p 135)

Energ!se argues that it is time to control the planetary experiment with organisation and engineering. The authors understand and promote the transformative capacity of human society. They want the conscious transformation of the planet. (p 132 to 134) They want to multiply global energy production by a factor of 10, so we can be comfortable now, and in the future. (p 20) This has to be the way forward for the benefit of an energy demanding and growing population.

Energ!se is for anyone weary of the socially elevated green capitalists. Among their Lordships Nicholas Stern searches for every possible externality to concoct The Economics of Climate Change, worrying about the "market failure". (1) There is no fixing the chaos of the market by turning greenhouse gases into commodities. (p 38) Equally an apologist like Baron Nigel Lawson is unable to absolve capitalism from the responsibility to develop an energy industry that understands the effect it has on natural systems. (p 8) Countless greens and sceptics choose to philosophise about whether pollution is good or bad. The greens want mitigation and adaptation now in anticipation of climate change, generally on the basis of the "Precautionary Principle". The sceptics, who are invariably aligned in some way to the prolific Bjorn Lomborg, collapse into impenetrable cost benefit analyses that postpone mitigation and adaptation. (p 482) Neither argues for the need for an industrially productive transformation of every country and every region on Earth.

Energ!se rejects the Green neo-Keynesian Deal. The austere "green" capitalist future is not for them. (p 8) Keynesianism from the 1930s is rightly seen as authoritarian, (2) and the 2009 version from Barack Obama and Gordon Brown will be intrusive too. (p 12) This book argues that freedom loving people must concentrate on the production of energy, and oppose policies that encourage us all to spend time and effort intruding into how everyone lives an energy consuming life. It is futile to obsess about the demand side. Greater supply is essential. The Laws of Thermodynamics on Earth, (3) in the Solar System, in the Universe, mean that while we can and do use energy efficiently, ultimately we have to generate more energy for more people to do more. (p 50) That is not only possible on our one planet, but is the only way for humanity to thrive. There is no survival in rationing out and making do with the resources produced by previous generations.

Energ!se wants convenience. 'Humans do waste energy. But personal struggles to conserve energy do little more than waste time.' (p 34) People should not have to be consumed counting kilowatt hours or CO2 emissions. (p 21) It is good to know what a Joule of energy might do, but not to have to worry about the CO2 emission intensity from the latest "energy mix" in the wires behind the electrical power socket. (p 44) What a waste of a life. Energy can and should be supplied both as a mains utility and as an abundantly stored, transportable, chemically engineered fuel. Indefinite and innovative energy supply should be taken for granted. There are "technical fixes" and we need them now. (p 27)

Energ!se shows how little of the CO2 emissions we are supposed to reduce is produced by all of the domestic lights in Britain. (p 70) Turning lights off or fitting low energy light bulbs that barely illuminate serves in a media campaign to make us feel "we're doing our bit". It is time to reject those '… ritualistic, moral, and happiness-inducing energy conservations.' (p 95) Who is making sure that the vastly greater carbon emissions in electricity generation and transmission are being engineered out? Better production can improve consumption. Less consumption is a life doing without. It is not indulgence to want to extend the day into night. (p 79) An advocate of industry a century ago the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti saw the transformative beauty in '… workshops beneath their violent electric moons.' (4) Futurists were right in that. The world today needs more electricity, not public apologies for power cuts.

Energ!se is for anyone who has had quite enough of "greens" '… more interested in being sanctimonious about other people's behaviour than in actually doing something about energy.' (p 36) Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky are tired of those who fret about "climate sensitivity". (p 58) Of course a social species with technology can adapt to irreversible climate change, but we can also materially transform the planet to be fit for humanity. (p 60) We already take responsibility for nature. We must do that more deliberately and dynamically. (p 62) The near omni-present International Panel on Climate Change fails to conceive of a global energy transformation, (p 472) and so does McKinsey. (p 474)

Energ!se has a logic. The logic of transformation extends instead to wanting to engineer the atmosphere to optimise the greenhouse effect. Richard Buckminster Fuller was similarly '… enthusiastic over humanity's extraordinary and sometimes timely ingenuities.' (5) He began to understand the task ahead as a matter of discovering the Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. The planet is not a spaceship. It is a planet in an orbit around a sun which we call "the Sun". The planetary systems that we call "nature" have no single mode of operation to be discovered and "sustained". Change is all around us, and the authors say we must and can take responsibility for directing that change to social priorities. Fuller's mistake was to avoid politics, and strip his insight down to the sort of technocratic argument indulged in by greens and sceptics. That is why environmentalists have claimed, falsely, that Fuller argued for "sustainability". He never did. Fuller argued for industry, but Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky know that to be effective requires a political and economic engagement, not a retreat into "scientism":

'The New Scientism insists that climate science has met the end of history and means you must change your habits. By contrast, we argue that climate science remains open. Our interpretation of it, however, suggests that mankind can and should take the time to build a bigger, better and fundamentally cleaner energy supply.' (p 164)

Photograph courtesy of Andrew Brooks - click for more...

Energ!se is bent on every kind of engineering, and on innovating technologies that are needed to meet an insatiable demand for energy. It is best to forget the metaphorical "footprint". (p 97) 'Climate is what you expect; weather, what you get.' (p 105) It is time to get very busy with "geo-engineering". (p 462) The earth '… has become an artificial place.' (p 112) 'Mankind is ingenious enough - and has time enough - to fix global warming during a wider endeavour.' (p 113) Not a regulatory endeavour, but an innovatory one. (p 154) It is necessary to innovate around better insulated buildings and heat recovering systems of ventilation and air conditioning, (p 430) but the innovations in energy supply need to be of a scale:

  • Nuclear power generation (p 175) with the energy industry being more forthright, and without the need for nationalisation. Waiting for governments to act will lead nowhere (p 181)
  • Geothermal power generation (p 400) based on the surveying and drilling capabilities of the oil and gas industry, and potentially much bigger news than a few naturally occurring geysers
  • Hydroelectricity generation (p 391) increasing the world's storage capacity for fresh water while reshaping the landscape
  • Predictable tidal, (p 396) large scale wind, (p 365) and concentrated solar energy infrastructure, (p 383) provided "intermittency" is overcome by industrial fuel production, facilities for energy storage, (p 402) and the collection and sharing of power in grids (p 404)

Energ!se rightly says forget about off-grid "renewable" microgeneration. (p 361) It is anti-social. (p 364) Don't waste effort on naturally ventilated buildings (p 382). The techniques don't work, and greens are worrying far too much about grid transmission losses. (p 405) Wave power is a nice idea but not really a global solution. (p 398) The authors clearly advocate using the vast geological and astronomical sources of energy to capture carbon, extract carbon from the atmosphere, produce hydrogen and oxygen from water, and manipulate carbon and hydrogen together to form synthetic fuels.

Energ!se appreciates fuels as forms of energy storage. Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky argue that this inexhaustible supply of manufactured fuel is simply easier to store, and better suited for use in land, sea and air transportation. They insist that chemically engineered hydrocarbons will prove more convenient than hydrogen fuel cells, and dismiss hydrogen for fuel cells too readily. (p 322 to 324) It is true that there is an eco-aesthetic in the cleanliness of hydrogen fuel cell technology, (6) while it is awkward to store liquid hydrogen. Hydrogen liquid boils away to gas at just over 20 Degrees Kelvin, and so the liquid form requires cryogenic storage at below minus 253 Degrees Centigrade. Technologies for robust cryogenic storage and handling are established today, following James Dewar's experiments. The "Dewar Flask" was developed in 1892 at the Royal Institution in London during his experimental and public research into cryogenics, (7) in the search for Absolute Zero. The technology was commercialised as the Thermos Flask in 1904, though not by Dewar, and we all know it to be based on the thermal insulation obtained from maintaining a vacuum in a flask with a reflective coating inside. There is much work to be done on liquid hydrogen infrastructure and vehicles, and on the compact storage of hydrogen gas. There is much work to be done on vacuum insulation too. (8) There could be more in future from hydrogen and vacuum R&D, if only there was an industrial dynamic. (9)

Energ!se is sensible. The authors are right, in that it is undoubtedly better to globally generate a superfluity of electrical energy and store it in fuel chemistries that can be used in liquid or solid form at ambient temperatures and pressures. It will require an industrial dynamic to get these fuel technologies working too. Today we are told to walk more. Architecturally over-designed compact cities are promoted as being "better for the planet". We are not promised the chance to zip around on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles through an inhabited and thoroughly man-made landscape, built to be upgraded conveniently. It is thought to be "innovative" to build with half a metre of "natural" sheep's wool to achieve what vacuum insulation can do in less than 50mm, protected and made thermally massive with popular and good value brickwork. The twenty-first century isn't yet promising to be a pro-industrial age. The authors beautifully confront the lack of a desire for an industrial dynamic, and insist on the necessary convenience of informal change. Regulation loving architects will panic if they ever read this book. To add to the transformative technologies the authors suggest:

  • Harvested hydrocarbons from genetically modified crops, bringing biology and agriculture into the energy equation (p 344)
  • Decarbonised coal, (p 274) oil, (p 308) and gas ( p 284) in electricity generation for a while longer yet (p 318)

Energ!se concentrates on making and growing fuels. (p 338 to 341) The world's economies should throw money at large supply side energy R&D to do precisely that, say the authors. (p 436) Lomborg appreciates that R&D budgets are reducing but he takes a "penny pinching" accountant's view of the need for transformative innovation. (p 483) Invest in global grids and networks of pipelines and cables and logistics distribution, say Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky. (p 468) Imagine a far more interconnected and energised world, understood as a planetary system within a solar system, and transformed into a work of human ingenuity… of beauty.

Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises, 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mrs Simon Guggenheim Fund

Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises, 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mrs Simon Guggenheim Fund

Energ!se is a Beautiful Book, in every sense. It projects from everything society can already do well. It explodes the nineteenth century aesthetic of the first Futurists, like the marvellous Umberto Boccioni, who for all his sense of a coming industrial dynamic was still living with horse and man power. The audacity of this "machine age" aesthetic is rightly being celebrated now at the Estorick Gallery. The City Rises in 1910, but laboriously. Today the Brown "green vision" is limited to laboriously insulating British homes built a century ago using lucrative, poorly performing, and bulky "energy saving" technologies. It would be better if better insulation and building services are designed into new buildings produced in greater quantities over more land. Meanwhile the manufacturing industry that produces commodity building materials, to be mostly built by skilful hands, is closing productive capacity for the want of a political and economic dynamic. Talk of the look of "exemplar" cities of the future might keep architects and planners amused, and does so on an epic scale. But that is superficial, and not very imaginative.

Energ!se is not a book aimed particularly at architects and planners, and most will rather concentrate on their own aesthetic obsessions, trying to minimise energy demands building by building, and losing convenience and comfort in the process. Rarely does anyone seriously consider how to raise the pace and scale of industrial development needed to satisfy the aspirational demands of 9 billion people in decades. Without retreating into the safe aesthetics of the "heroic" inter-war modernists, or the post-war "space age", in an effort to be distanced from the poor aesthetics of eco-modernism, Woudhuysen and Kaplinsky go forward to consider an energised industrial future needing to be given physical expression. In the manifesto of Suprematism in 1919 Kasimir Malevich proclaimed:

'Let us seize the world from the hands of nature and build a new world belonging to man himself.' (10)

The beauty of Energ!se is in pointing out in 2009 that the future will always be '… something that you make happen', (p 125) as the industrial present was achieved in the past.

Energ!se is a call for industrialists everywhere to produce, and for the chattering classes of greens and climate change sceptics to get out of their way. For architects too, it is a call to reach for the sky, "sprawl", get some space and scale into our work, and pursue productivity and performance without losing convenience and comfort.

Ian Abley 30.01.2009

International Vacuum Insulation Symposium 2009

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