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Making Energy Visible, And Why It Matters

The less we know about something like energy, the more likely we are to use and abuse it in ways with long-reaching, harmful consequences.

Four years ago, when I began writing a book about renewable energy, I knew as much about the topic as the next reasonably intelligent person. That is to say, not much at all. But the deeper I got into the project the more I began to understand why. Namely, because for all intents and purposes, energy is invisible. Flick a switch and the lights turn on, presto! Plug in your iPhone and in an hour or so … viola! All juiced up and ready to go.  

And that’s a problem, because the less we know about something like energy, the more likely we are to use and abuse it in ways with long-reaching, harmful consequences. We’ve been so reliant on fossil fuels for so long that it’s easy to conclude that there will never be any viable alternatives. That’s pretty much what I assumed before writing this book. But the more I learned, the more I saw when visiting renewable (and conventional) power plants and speaking with the scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs at the forefront of renewable energy research and development, energy became for me less a vague concept and more a tangible, visible reality with very real consequences for me, my kids, and for future generations. 

So why does this matter? Why should you care? Here’s what I wrote in the Introduction:

“The subject of Energy with a capital E is so big, so complex and overwhelming, that it often seems impossible to get a handle on the myriad crises and challenges facing us as we tentatively begin to transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable alternatives. After all, unless you’re a high-powered scientist or CEO, what can one person actually do to sway the course of events? The answer is that you and I can make a difference, and the first step toward being more than merely a passive observer or ignorant consumer is to learn what renewable energy is really about: how it’s evolved, where it’s headed, why it matters, and how it’s already changing the world.”

Four years later, I still believe that. My goal for the book was to help make energy visible by telling stories about it–about 19th and early 20th century solar energy pioneers August Mouchot and Frank Shuman; about hanging out at a wind power expo in Texas; about efforts to tap the power of Manhattan’s East River using cutting-edge, underwater turbines. My hope is that these (and many other) stories will not only entertain and inform but also inspire readers to take action: perhaps by investing in (ever-increasingly affordable) rooftop solar panels or a residential geothermal heating and cooling system; or by feeling motivated to advocate for state and federal energy policies that push for more renewable source; or even simply by parlaying greater understanding of where energy comes from and how it’s made into using it more judiciously.

Jeremy Shere is the author of RENEWABLE: The World-Changing Power of Alternative Energy by Jeremy Shere. Read an excerpt here

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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