The Bottomless Well
Peter Huber & Mark P. Mills
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Buy *The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy* online

The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy
Peter Huber & Mark P. Mills
Basic Books
214 pages
January 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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With these two authors, one can feel secure. Their expertise ranges from physics to law, from defense electronics to energy technology, from government policy to entrepreneurship to, well, writing. Huber and Mills are both convinced and convincing.

The Bottomless Well seeks to assure us that there is plenty of energy, from plenty of sources, and that supply will always match or outstrip demand. Illustrated with charts and graphs, it explores the possibilities of hydrogen power, solar energy, even uranium in the family car’s tank. In fact, what goes in the tank is arguably less significant than we currently think. As the authors state, “it is impossible to predict the future, but it is possible to predict the future that has already happened.” Power chips, semi-conductors, the “convergence of the electric and transportation sectors” are already driving the markets and fueling the optimism of thinkers like Huber and Mills. As they put it, “the new wired economy is so much more efficient than the old.” Ordering from Amazon instead of driving to the mall is one cogent example of how efficiency can move ahead of demand, anticipating logjams and eliminating before the consumer ever has to worry about them. It’s “clicks instead of bricks.” Gratification has never been so nearly instantaneous, and very few of us can resist the temptation. Even the nay-sayers.

This is a fast-paced read, no more unlikely to bog down than its subject matter - energy in its many forms. The bald fact is that you can’t produce energy without creating waste, and waste, say the authors, “is as virtuous as order, as virtuous as a tidy room, clean dishes, plaque-free teeth.” Each has its price in energy expenditure. So the apparent waste of trees or coal or some equivalent energy source is all part of the bigger picture, not the end of the process.

It’s refreshing to think in terms of surplus and success. It’s true that it takes energy to find energy, as the pessimists assert, but the counter-argument is also true – that the more energy one has, the more energy one can devote to the hunt. Therefore it’s better to go ahead, with a hand on the throttle and steam in the boiler, than to lay about on the siding waiting for the end to come. Given a choice of philosophies, I’ll take the energetic view of energy over the lethargic and the morbid.

© 2005 by Barbara Bamberger Scott for

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