Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air — Book Review

Andrew Crabtree
3 min readMar 4, 2022


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Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air

About the Author:

David MacKay was a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and Regius Professor of Engineering at Cambridge University.

He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and then obtained his PhD in Computation and Neural Systems at Caltech — the California Institute of Technology. He returned to Cambridge as a Royal Society research fellow at Darwin College.

He is internationally known for his research in machine learning, information theory, and communication systems, including the invention of Dasher. This software interface enables efficient communication in any language with any muscle.

He taught Physics in Cambridge and devoted much of his time to public teaching about energy.

From 2009 to 2014, he was Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). He was a World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Climate Change member. In the 2016 New Year’s Honours List, he was awarded a knighthood for Scientific Advice in Government and Science Outreach services.

He, unfortunately, passed away in 2016 at the age of 48.

Famous Reviews:

If someone wants an overall view of how energy gets used, where it comes from, and the challenges in switching to new sources, this is the book to read. — Bill

Gates, Chairman of Microsoft

There are so many books about sustainable energy and alternative energy on today’s market that one might wonder about the need for yet another; but; Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air offers something different — and that’s a notable achievement in a genre overloaded with too many revamps using the same approach.

D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review, California Bookwatch”

The main text of his book is readable (and witty) and its technical appendices bristle with equations. If the planet and its people are the patients, MacKay’s book is the lab results, temperature chart and electrocardiogram. —

The New York Review of Books

Get Into Nuclear Book Review:

The book is a good read with many scientific facts, which, in fact, makes it enjoyable to read. The book is written in a witty, light-hearted manner providing illustrations, charts, and captions along with a way that brings a sense of humour to an otherwise grave subject.

When considering whether or not there is a solution to the sustainable energy puzzle, the book looks to identify several critical assumptions of energy demand in the coming years in a manner that can be easily understood — even if some of the premises are a little subjective. Some more meticulous readers will question the validity of the ‘fag-packet’ calculations themselves.

The book makes a point of being mindful of the “hot air” and agendas behind some of the information’s claims.

In short, the book’s outcome is that it is believed that we can maintain the present consumption level sustainably for 1000 years at the consumption rates growing annually as projected in the book.

The key finding is that the UK can achieve this by a mix of Nuclear, Wind and importing energy from other countries. The author is pro-nuclear, and you could be forgiven for thinking that this comes through in the book, but the outcome is underpinned throughout by calculation.

Written in 2006, it can be argued that the book is a little outdated and maybe even irrelevant given the changes in politics over recent years — Brexit being the stand out change.

However, for an outstanding scientific overview of the options and their pros and cons when considering meeting present and future energy demands, the book is very much worth reading.



Andrew Crabtree

I write about what I'm currently geeking-out over. What I read, watch and listen to, as well as my experiences as a Dad, Husband and Nuclear Energy Consultant.