In his new book “Our Choice” former vice President and Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore outlines the opportunities of energy systems transformation. The book starts out where the previous book “An Inconvenient Truth” ended. The book provides extensive discussions of many of the most important technological opportunities for the development of renewable fuels and energy sources for electricity, such as wind, solar energy, nuclear and bio-fuels. Yes, there are clearly an abundance of opportunities, and yes, we need the political will to develop and implement the necessary new technologies. “Our Choice” provides a necessary and enthusiastic account of the activities that we need to initiate, and the business opportunities that these seem to offer.
Al Gore also touches upon the subject of Peak Oil and the impending price increases for petroleum products, but he does not analyze the implications of Peak Oil for our need to reduce our use of fossil fuels. A reduced supply of oil will reduce the use of oil, and there are also problems related to increasing the use of other fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, as Richard Heinberg and Julian Darley have argued.
“Our Choice” is mainly about technology, and it focuses on the opportunities. In it Al Gore mentions that it will, in many ways, be a difficult and demanding process to transform energy systems on a large scale, but he does not go into the forms of management, the organization, or the financing opportunities in any detail.
Throughout the book he is curiously quiet about the meaning of the word “plan” that is spelled out in the subtitle.
He makes it clear that the government of the United States has a role in the transformation, and he expresses hope that the President, Barack Obama, in 2009, will take strong action to solve the climate crisis. Al Gore also describes the role that “Information” can play in the transformation, but he does not say anything of the greater managerial context that will become necessary in order for the suggested uses of information to make sense.
To summarize, Al Gore focuses on the good news. Yes, it is possible to transform energy systems on a large scale, yes, there are promising new technologies, yes, we need to change the ways that we think about energy and the ways that we use it. “Our Choice” is less explicit on the exact nature of the management challenge, the roles that need to be played by the government, business leaders, and the need of billions in investment into research, technology development and implementation. As only one example we may look at “The Nuclear Option”, which is seems to be increasingly favored even by environmentalists. In his book “Is War Necessary for Economic Growth”, the late Professor Vernon W. Ruttan of University of Minnesota argues that nuclear technology had probably not been developed at all in the absence of large scale and long term government investment in technology development. While new generations of nuclear fission technology, and nuclear fusion, are options for the future, very large research and implementation programs will become necessary in order to develop those. In addition, it takes ten years to build a new nuclear power plant, using the technologies that are already available to us, and we may need very many new plants in the near future.
Al Gore leaves the task of analyzing the management challenges of energy systems transformation to other authors. Fortunately, “Global Energy Transformation” is already available to complement “Our Choice” in this respect. In the very near future a new book will be available from Global Energy Transformation Institute, which describes the softer leadership skills that the leaders in the challenge need to possess, in order to drive transformation in our society of highly specialized individuals and organizations. “Our Choice” needs to be read by many, but we must not stop here and think that Al Gore presents the solution, or a plan. In that sense “Our Choice” is not the last word on the issue of planning in the energy transformation process. Neither is it a book about planning and management of this process. Nonetheless, it is a very important book about the technology solutions that are available to us, and some of the obstacles to change that our society presents.