September 8th, 2010

Top 3 Books for your Clean Energy Library


The academic highlight of my grad program was a directed research thesis with Boston College IS professor, Rob Fichman. Disrupting the Carbon Quo was an exploration of the role innovation economics can play for a comprehensive response to climate change. For a few months, it was my job to get schooled in energy transitions, up to speed with climate science, and comfortable with the notion of techno-economic paradigms. In the process, I built up a small “new energy” library, a selection of which I’m featuring here.

A few months back, GLD Insider Walter Frick featured cleantech web resources in his post, How to Become a Clean Energy Infovore. So after you’ve munched on those, check out some of these books for a deep dive in climate science, the commercial response, and potential economic impacts. The Prize and The End of Nature are next in my Kindle queue, what’s in yours?

Earth: The Sequel – If there is ever a Hall of Fame for the environment, Fredd Krupp will surely be an inductee. At times, he is controversial for his market-based proposals for environmental change, but it’s hard to argue with the Environmental Defense Fund’s results, which include a successful implementation (1990 Clean Air Act) of a cap and trade mechanism for sulfer dioxide, and demonstrable sustainability campaigns with Fortune 500 enterprises — where impacts are quantifiable, scalable, and margin-enhancing.

The Sequel is a great read for those interested in the innovation half of innovation economics. After a solid overview of the major factors that are suffocating the planet and which demand a commercial response (“A New Industrial Revolution”), Krupp profiles some of the most promising technologies that could disrupt the carbon quo. This takes readers from the Bay Area labs of Amyris Biotech; to the Sydney “garage” of thermal solar pioneers, Ausra; to the Para state of the Brazilian Amazon, where the courage of a local ribeirinho — appropriately named Herculano — led to the creation of the Anfrizio watershed reserve (halting deforestation, one of “Today’s Solutions,” according to Krupp).

A Question of Balance – On to the economics half of the equation…Yale scholar William Nordhaus — a preeminent expert on climate economics — picks up where Krupp’s rhetorical question leaves off: “markets have failed the environment because they have failed to account for the cost of pollution.” Nordhaus accounts for the cost of pollution — he pegs the current “externality” social cost of carbon at about $30/ton — and the price of containing it, using the 2007 Dynamic Integrated Climate Economics (DICE) model, and then describes the results of various climate-response scenarios.

Those scenarios are laid out in detail in Chapter IV, and serve as an excellent primer for anyone interested in climate change policy. They include: business as usual (BAU); various CO2 caps; temperature rise caps; Kyoto measures; and ambitious targets of both the Stern Review and Al Gore. Which is the winning horse? Spolier alert! It’s BAU. Kidding, you’re going to have to read the book.

Nordhaus’ book reads like a 204 page research paper. He lets the facts and figures make the case for his recommended climate change response, with little (but some) editorializing. A Question of Balance is an incredible resource for policy wonks and for anyone looking for credible, high-level frameworks which make the case for disrupting the carbon quo.

The Past and Future of America’s Economy – Robert Atkinson largely inspired my thesis topic with his BusinessWeek article, Innovation Can Fight Global Warming. His book describes a theory of underlying techno-economic waves of economic productivity; whereby creative destruction/disruption is not only fashionable — its system critical.

The book is an excellent (though slightly longer) companion to the Energy Transitions article over at Encyclopedia of the Earth for understanding why we’re due for a fundamental shift in underlying energy infrastructure and technology.

Atkinson’s book is not about cleantech, per se. But its easy to apply the concepts he describes to the carbon quo: despite institutional resistance to change (think Big Oil), disruptive technology has the potential to create a “web of interlocking products and firms producing them,” creating ripple effects throughout an economy, leaving commercial causalities in its wake, and driving a new wave of growth. When you couple these fundamental forces with the mounting pressure of climate change and need for technology solutions, we could be in for a major acceleration of the disruption.

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Matt Marino

About Matt Marino

Matt C. Marino is a LEED Green Associate and 2010 graduate of the Boston College Carroll School of Management MBA program, where he studied energy and technology markets. Upon graduation, Matt started work as a Market and Policy Analyst at First Wind in Boston. He is also the founder of Clean Pursuits (@cleanpursuits) a “for-benefit” venture committed to developing cleantech applications for communities in need; and the co-founder of Switchback Life (@SwitchbackLife), a healthy snacks company. When not working, Matt can be found making lists and training for ultra-distance endurance competitions, often with his Brittany (spaniel), Cooper.