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"Energy without hot air" Group Read

About the author

Tony Curzon Price was Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy from 2007 to 2012, where he is now contributing editor and technical director. He blogs at

Jan 30 2009, Chapters 3 and 4. Cars and wind
In which we learn that a car eats (the energy equivalent of) half a kilo five kilos of butter per day on a typical commute, and that although "Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s evidently not as huge as our huge consumption."

(click on image to get to book; read below to sign up to group reading)


Jan 16 2009, Chapter 2


Reading Chapter 2 this week-end. A short chapter that sets the goal of calculating in broad terms whether sustainable energy production can match current energy production. This is the big question of whether we face a massive environmental constraint or one that will require substantial but not life-changing modifications to life. David clears up important conceptual questions -- energy, power, entropy, efficiency.

Read below if you are just joining the group read and would like to equip yourself with the annotation tools.

Jan 7 2009, read-in kick-off

Energy is at the heart of two of the hardest social problems we face: environment and poverty. And the two pull in different directions.

Average energy use per person must rise, while total carbon emmissions must fall. Bringing 2 billion people out of misery and another 2 billion out of poverty will need huge increases in their energy use. But at the same time,  environmental constraints mean that carbon emmissions must fall.

To come to a responsible view on a great number of topics - from the response to economic crisis to bio-fuels; from climate change mitigation to transport policy - we need to have a solid grounding in the facts about energy. (See David's own list of questions at the bottom of this page).

This is why I have picked David Mackay's "Energy Without Hot Air" as a first text for openDemocracy's 2009 Group Reads. We'll feature about 10 pages per week and keep a running page of the commentary and questions and notes.

As before, we'll use to do the annotations. You need to sign up for a diigo account and then join the "Energy group read" group. I usually find it easiest to install the diigo toolbar on my browser to add notes to online texts. You can also get the same sort of functionality by installing the diigolet button, which is somewhat easier to use and install.If you have any trouble with any of this, add a question to the comments on this page and we'll try to sort it out.

Once you have diigo set up, you can go to the online version of  "Energy Without Hot Air" and start reading, commenting and asking questions. When you come to a place in the text that is worth a comment or question (for example, here, on the text "This heated debate is fundamentally about numbers"), highlight the phrase and choose "Highlight" from the diigo menu. Once highlighted, mouse over the highlight and choose "Add sticky note" from the diigo menu. Type in your note or question and in the drop-down menu that defaults to "Private" make sure you select "od energy group read".

When you are reading  "Energy Without Hot Air" other people's highlights should appear, and you should be able to read their comments and questions by mousing over the text.You can also look at all notes on a page.

We're still experimenting with how these online group reads work. Last year, we ran group reads on Zittrain's Future of the Internet and on the G20 communique. They're fun, interesting and informative. Do join us!

Just like to say a big thank you to David MacKay who has been very supportive of this project, and to William Sigmund without whose amazing html and perl skills I do not think we would have had an online version to work with.