Textbook Debut

Energy Ambitions textbook coverHello, all, and welcome (me) back! After years of radio silence, I am popping back up and have more to say in the coming months as I re-engage on topics relevant to this blog.

The first thing is to announce the launch of a textbook at eScholarship that is free to access electronically (can download PDF), or is available in paperback form for the cost of printing (royalty-free; at Lulu). Over the years, I received a number of encouragements to write a book collecting the ideas and analysis from Do the Math posts. I appreciated the sentiment, but given the substantial effort required to produce something that was already available for free on this site never rose to a high priority in the competition for limited time.

After a long hiatus from teaching the general education energy course at UCSD—due mostly to a heavy administrative role for five years—I picked it up again for Winter quarter 2020. I had always been discontented when it came to textbook choices: my sense was that they tended to play it safe to avoid the risk of being provocative. But provocative may be what our situation calls for! I had been inspired by David MacKay’s fabulous and quantitatively rich Sustainability: Without the Hot Air, but its focus on the UK and not-quite-textbook format kept me from adopting it for the classroom.

So I set out to capture key elements of Do the Math in a textbook for the Winter 2020 class, following a somewhat similar trajectory: growth limits; fossil fuels and climate change; alternative energy capabilities and pros/cons; concluding with a dose of human factors and personal adaptation strategies. I stayed just ahead of the class, issuing one chapter at a time as visually unappealing PDFs having a few key figures and tables. So I essentially wrote the book in early 2020. But that turned out to be the smaller end of the workload.

During the course, I collected feedback on each chapter from students as part of their assignment regimen. I asked what was missing, what was confusing, what figures or tables would help, and if anything seemed dubious or wrong. I have to hand it to the students: they dug in and provided fantastic feedback. Reformatting the book to include margin notes, a hyperlinked glossary, an index, etc.—while also responding to about 2,600 feedback “tickets”—took substantial time, completed in December 2020. I thought I was done, but suggestions from colleagues and three rounds of proofreading prints added a few months. Reassuringly, my list of actions at each stage dropped from 42 pages of notes to 17 to 9—indicating convergence.

A supplemental page provides some additional information about the book and also a mechanism to submit corrections and other feedback.

I will open up a comments forum for this post and leave it up for a while. But I plan to moderate it tightly to stay on the topic of the book and not branch into tangents that could veer far from the narrow scope of this particular post. Feedback and typos should use this website, as mentioned above.

Also, feel free to leave reviews at the Lulu site (if purchasing a print version) to help others understand what the book offers.

In the coming months, I plan to start creating more Do the Math posts to share the evolution of my thoughts around this whole civilization business.

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20 thoughts on “Textbook Debut

  1. I've only lightning skimmed it, but Wow! You created the book we need, a worthy heir to Sustainability: Without the Hot Air.

    Each part I looked at based meaningful views and perspectives on basic science, I think understandable partly by anyone and understandable for someone with a strong physics background, such as most experts in the field.

    I can't wait to get into it.

    By any chance did you record any of the courses or do you plan to record future ones? I would love to see you teaching it.

    • Hi Josh; I did not record any of the lectures last time I taught the course. Next time, I may be operating a "flipped" format, so that I am not verbally delivering primary content but using face-to-face time (whether virtual or in person) to address student-raised requests for clarification and/or coordinating group efforts to solve tough problems real-time. The primary means of initial exposure to content will be through reading the textbook—which you can now do as well!

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  3. I was waiting for this moment for three and a half years!

    The book looks very thorough, full of math and equations and I absolutely adore it. You obviously spent enormous time to research, compile and write it and the effort is visible.

    My only problem, and I agree it might just be an opinion and not a fact, is with the section about electric vehicles. I think that you are being too harsh on their efficiency (TM3, the poster child of EVs is on the low side of your scale of energy usage of EVs and there are certainly cars that are even more efficient – first gen Ioniq). Also – capacity density is rising all the time and don't forget about solid state batteries that are just around the corner 🙂

    Keep up the good work, I love it!

  4. Pingback: Do the Math som e-bok. « ASPO Sverige

  5. I've been hoping you'd come back to this, so glad to see it's happening!
    I'm particularly interested to see whether any of your thoughts and projections are now revised due to the faster-than-expected drop in the prices of photovoltaics and power storage technologies – and which ones haven't changed…

  6. First, welcome back! Weekly update checks of this site have been part of my Friday morning ritual for the better part of a decade now.

    Second, I look forward to going through your ebook as time permits. Many times I've thought of things you've written as I've read other people's articles and claims. It will be good to see how your material has evolved though the drafting of the ebook.

    In the meantime, will you be writing here any of your thoughts on the various reports being published proclaiming how renewables will be able to meet our needs? For example, just this morning a joint report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group titled "Offshore Wind for America: The Promise and Potential of Clean Energy Off Our Coasts" crossed my Inbox.

    As always, thank you for your insight and perspective.

  7. Welcome back. Even now I refer to old posts of yours at least monthly. I'm really looking forward to reading the book!

  8. Thanks to Michael Beyer, whose previous comment lets me know that I'm not the only nutcase cargo cultist who's been checking the website every Friday for years in hopes of a reincarnation!

    • Now I feel bad. One poor soul checking every Friday might be tolerable, but two?! Had I known, I might have left some sort of heartbeat to let folks know I had not abandoned concern for humanity's future. Hopefully the textbook provides some compensation as something worth the wait.

      • Three.

        Although most of the work was done by the RSS reader of course. But this is one of the sites I never removed.

    • I just let the RSS reader (feed.ly) do the work. 'Comments' is a separate feed, so I actually noticed that before the main posts, at first I thought some spammer had added comments to old threads.

  9. Glad you are still with us. Have been missing the posts.

  10. So excited that you’ve done this. I’ve missed your regular posts for a long time now! I’ve taught high school physics, and created a parallel seminar class on Energy, Economics, and the Environment that you were one of the inspirations for, and I’ve often referenced your work in it— fantastic to have this all in one place as a resource.


  11. I went back to dothemath many times, hoping for more.
    But this is much more than more; this is what we lesser-math'ed mortals (who still fit your Myers Briggs profile, interestingly 🙂 needed; a reference-bible for furthering the wider discussion.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  12. Wow!!! Thank you! I'm digging into your book and loving it. It is very helpful to me personally and the work I am doing and sharing with the world.

    You did the (kWh conversion) math! I've been meaning to get around to doing the math to complete my visual map of my own kWh footprint for a few years now. Your chapter that converts everything to kWh has given me a great benchmark to finish my image based on data for several estimated aspects of my life (like stuff): http://www.schultzengineering.us/2018-D-11-2.jpg

    Something like this graphic might be a useful additon to your textbook. It helps communicate the message that there is may be no "right or wrong", or "ending point". We are all on a journey. And, our efforts are on a continuum. Hopefully, we are making continuous improvement on the continuum!

  13. I should have thought of this sooner, but it would be splendid if folks could help crowdsource something for the book. I only test-drove the PDF navigation on a Mac (OSX) using Adobe Acrobat and Preview. I don't know how to instruct people on different platforms using different apps how to successfully navigate forward and backward: like returning from a glossary link, for instance.

    If you don't see your operating system and application combination below with clear directions for navigation, please reply to this message and let us know how it's done. I'll be able to update the How to Use This Book section once reasonably complete.


  14. Welcome back. Your efforts both in the past and now with this book and more to enlighten the world with your knowledge and wisdom are very much appreciated. Thank you.

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