Friday, September 20, 2013

Mark Denny's "Lights On!"

Mark Denny is a theoretical physicist who worked in academia and industry. His books include Gliding for Gold: The Physics of Winter Sports and The Science of Navigation: From Dead Reckoning to GPS.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Lights On!: The Science of Power Generation, and reported the following:
Lights On! is my tenth popular science book--the subject matter seems to be getting bigger with each publication, and in this case I examine the science of power generation. But to describe this subject as ‘big’ is like describing Attila the Hun as ‘confrontational’ or Warren Buffet as ‘well off’. The manner in which humanity generates the power it needs is a pressing matter, and will become more so soon enough. There is a crunch coming in a few years time, due to a combination of fossil fuels running out and climate change. We need to decide wisely and soon about how we are going to generate the power we need to maintain our civilization over the next several decades.

These notions are hardly new, but a lot of nonsense has been written about them by the extremists on both sides. My book takes a dispassionate look, from the point of view of a physicist from outside the power-generation industry, at our current means of generating power and the best ways for doing so in the future. The first few chapters explain present-day technology--coal, oil and gas, hydro, wind and solar--and how we move the energy sources or generated power around the world (supertankers, electricity pylons …). Then I investigate future technology trends and the best bets for the next generation. I don’t expect to win many friends with my conclusions.

Page 99 happens to land right in the middle of a coal-fired power plant. Coal is dirty but cheap: this page digs the dirt. The by-products of burning coal pollutes rivers, air and coal miners. One of the most important pollutants is heat: a picture on page 99 shows the steam rising from cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant. This is the only hot air in the book, I maintain.
Learn more about Lights On! at the Johns Hopkins University Press website and Mark Denny's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Science of Navigation.

Writers Read: Mark Denny (July 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue