Football – the Ultimate Demand Side Management Program?

On this blog we are supposed to write insightful things about energy markets, but I’ve got football on the brain. While the Pats beat the Seahawks in a game everyone watched, my family and I spent the day on an empty beach in San Francisco. This made me contemplate the behavioral responses of individuals to major sporting events and what this means for utilities across the globe.

The news focused on the fact that for the first time, this crown jewel of sporting events that exactly one country watches, was played under LED lights. This is exciting news! The stadium installed 44,928 LED lamps, which need only 310,000 Watts of power compared to the old metal halide bulbs, which used 1.24 million Watts. This capital investment not only reduced energy consumption by a whopping 75% but provided more even light (fewer shadows) which both players and high definition video cameras like. Further, LED lamps are on immediately while the old sort takes 20 minutes to ramp up to full brightness. This is the last year the NFL will use roman numerals for the super bowl (because the next one will be number 50 and super bowl L just doesn’t sound manly enough) and the first year we use current technology lights. Out with old, in with the new.

But how much energy did we save? If those lights are on for 8 hours, we have saved 7.44 MWh. That is not chump change. To put this into general terms, this is the equivalent amount of energy 686 US homes use in a whole year. And those lights will be used at other events for a long time, so the savings are not trivial. Are these really all of the energy savings we get from major sporting events? The answer is no.

I am German and in my version of football, if you touch the ball with your hands, you get a penalty. Every four years, the greatest tournament in the world of sports followed in pretty much every country on the globe (yes here too!) is carried out – the Fifa World Cup. For us soccer fanatics, when our country plays, we call in sick, paint our faces, throw on our jerseys and head to a big screen. All of those screens running must mean that load rises drastically – right? Nothing could be further from the truth. TVs, even the big ones, use relatively little electricity. But while watching you fail to engage in activities that do take a lot of power, like doing your laundry or working. Am I making this up? Let me introduce you to the Brasilian soccer powered duck graph:

brasilgraphOn the 28th of June of 2010 Brasil (one of the greatest teams in the game) played Chile. I don’t need to tell you what time the game took place and when half time happened. The typical day load is about 60 GW and during the game this dropped by 15GW. During half time, there was a brief spike of 3.3 GW (microwaves presumably) and then load dropped again to 45 GW. It is noteworthy that the ramp slopes in this graph are similar to those of some renewable technologies. Other utilities see bunching during sporting events. In the US we see spikes in water use during unimportant portions of the big game (sorry Katy Perry – people need to use the restroom at some point) and in Canada something similar was reported during the Olympic game for the gold medal in hockey.

The policy prescription here is a simple one – schedule sporting events of regional significance during periods of anticipated high peak loads! The NFL could become a major player in Demand Response! All kidding aside, what these simple graphs show is that seemingly trivial things like watching a major soccer game can have massive impacts on a national or regional market. Small changes in behavior matter – if enough people engage in it.

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Can Mammograms Teach Us Something Useful about Energy Efficiency?

At first blush, mammograms and energy efficiency investments appear to have nothing in common – one’s a personal, preventative health tool and the other helps you save money and energy. But I suspect they raise similar time-management issues. Let me explain.

This starts with an energy-efficiency experience that I had recently. As I blogged about in late December, my family and I spent a couple days at the beach over the holidays. It was really cold in Berkeley while we were gone, so we relished checking our new Nest (a Hanukkah gift from my in-laws) to see how cold it was in our house – bottoming out at 53 degrees. On the way home, we turned the heat up from the airport, definitely appreciating that feature of the Nest.nest-mobile-app

An hour later, when we were actually in our house, our feelings for the Nest took a nosedive. It was still 53 degrees inside. It got up to 55 degrees by the time we went to bed and was only 58 degrees when my husband woke up the next morning and called the Nest customer hotline – this had never happened before, so we thought the Nest was somehow slowing down our furnace. The extremely helpful rep talked to my husband for almost an hour (5-stars for Nest on customer service) and gradually deduced that it was likely an issue with our furnace filters.

My husband went to the basement and took out the filters – score! They looked like they had 3 inches of fur. After he vacuumed them, our furnace kicked into gear. We had basically been asking an asthmatic to run a marathon, and it was getting tired. With clean lungs, our furnace got our house to 68 in an hour.Dirty-Filter

So, the energy efficiency lesson is this: remember to clean your filters. According to the web research I’ve done, this can help you save 10-20% on your heating bill.

What does this have to do with mammograms? If you’re like me, both “get the furnace filters cleaned” and “get a mammogram” (or “get a prostate screen,” for men) are annoying tasks that you know you should do, but, as life happens, get short shrift.

I think of myself as basically conscientious, maybe not 95th percentile, but at least above the median. I do get approximately annual checkups with my doctor, and every year I walk out with a requisition for a mammogram and every intention of getting one, but then don’t get around to it.

to do list

Last week, I got a call from a local number that I didn’t recognize. I tend to answer those as my thoughts go pretty readily to an EMT checking one of my kids’ phones and finding “Mom.”

Luckily, it wasn’t an EMT, but a friendly yet firm woman who told me she was calling to schedule a mammogram for me. I agreed, eyeing dates in February on my calendar, but she wanted to talk about an appointment in 25 hours. It was brilliant—as it turned out, I didn’t have anything pressing at 5PM on a Friday, so I went in and got the test. If she’d gotten me to schedule something for February, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that something more pressing would have come up for that time slot in the meantime, and I would have canceled, telling myself I’d do it later.

I suspect that both the mammogram and filter cleaning fall victim to what behavioral economists call, “rational inattention” (as Meredith mentioned 2 weeks ago). I have some vague sense that I should be doing them, but actually getting them done involves looking up phone numbers, finding the referral from my doctor (or neighbor in the case of furnace filter cleaners), which is a pain, so I don’t do them. There’s probably an element of less rational procrastination, too.

If others are similar to me and put off filter cleaning, perhaps something like the proactive mammogram scheduling could work. If a filter cleaner had gotten in touch with either me or my husband over the past year encouraging us to sign up for a cleaning tomorrow, we probably would have done it. Not only would we have saved a bunch of energy, but we would have also avoided 18 hours in a frigid house at the end of our vacation (plus cleaner air for our family over the past couple years, no doubt).

Even better would be if Nest could use our personalized data, figure out when our furnace is huffing and puffing too much, and suggest a furnace filter cleaning. Wasn’t personalized data one of the reasons Google was so interested in paying lots of money for Nest?

Behavioral programs and nudges for energy efficiency have received a lot of attention. Opower, the founding father in this domain, recently raised $120 million through its IPO. My general impression is that Opower-type results are pretty intriguing – garnering 2% savings from a simple home energy report. But, 2% savings won’t be the silver bullet for climate change. Maybe nudges targeted at specific actions will be the next important step for behavioral energy efficiency.

Also a good behavioral marketer?

Also a good behavioral marketer?

Ultra-rational economists would argue that if people like me will be super responsive to proactive scheduling calls, furnace-filter cleaners would be doing them already. But small business owners have a lot on their minds, too, like keeping up with the tax code, health insurance laws, etc., so they also may be rationally inattentive to the latest behavioral research.

Then again, mammograms and furnace filter cleaning are not unique. Firms that offer closet cleaning, physical training and time-management consultations might also figure out that they should call people with offers to schedule an appointment tomorrow. I, for one, would very quickly learn not to answer phone calls from local numbers while I was at work. So, they’d have to come up with another way to penetrate my inattention.

Energy efficiency is a core component of most major carbon mitigation plans. And, it’s something that 91 US Senators recently voted in favor of! Figuring out how to help people make good decisions about energy efficiency is a fundamental challenge. But, people make perplexing decisions in many parts of their lives, so, hopefully, we can continue to learn from lots of domains.

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Oil price crash shows the challenge of breaking addiction

The price of crude oil has fallen more than 50% since summer and drivers are responding exactly as economists would predict.  Americans are driving more, the market for SUVs is roaring again and the average fuel economy of new cars sold is declining after years of increases.


Many oil analysts predict that oil prices won’t stay this low, and the futures markets agree.  The price for oil delivered in March 2019 is 40% higher than the price for oil delivered in March 2015.  Regardless of whether oil prices regain some of their 2014 losses in the next few years, the latest petro-roller coaster illustrates the monumental challenge that still lies ahead for attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching to EVs or biofuels.

To see why, start by recognizing that the oil crash of 2014 resulted from a collection of unforeseen changes to supply and demand.  Economies in Europe and Asia saw slower demand growth than was forecast.  The U.S. supply expansion (mainly from fracking in North Dakota and Texas) continued at a more robust pace than anticipated, while U.S. demand is dampened by years of improving fuel economy. Libya’s oil production rebounded as warring factions reached enough accord to get oil onto tankers.  And OPEC did not offset these surprises as it has done in the past (mostly just Saudi Arabia) by taking a few million barrels per day off the market.


But the piece of this story that has gotten very little attention is how small the supply and demand surprises have been as a share of the 92 million barrel per day market.  Given past trends, the news in the last year didn’t plausibly change the supply/demand balance by more than 5 million barrels per day, and it was probably a lot less.  Yet, that was enough to drop the spot price of oil by more than 50% and push down long-run oil price expectations by more than 30%.

The reason for this outsized reaction is the simple economics of competitive markets: the price is set by the marginal cost of the last, or highest cost, barrel sold.  The marginal barrel is less costly to produce these days than 6 months ago, but most of the crude oil supplied is even less expensive.  The recent oil price drop shows that a small increase in crude supply and/or a small drop in demand brings a much cheaper barrel of oil to the margin, and that sets the price.

The 2014 crash gave us a small glimpse of what reducing world crude demand would do to oil markets.  There is a lot of conventional crude oil that is unpumped and an enormous supply of oil from shale and tar sands that is becoming cheaper to produce each year.  The annual energy forecasts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Agency, BP, Exxon and others see consumption of liquid hydrocarbons increasing or flat for many decades.

CrudeDemandOutlookBPSource: BP Energy Outlook, 2014

If switching to alternative fuels took even 20% out of world oil demand – less than a third of the oil used for transportation — the price would surely crash further and for much longer than we have seen in the last year.

What would oil prices would look like if world demand fell to 70 million barrels a day by 2025?  Anything above $40/barrel doesn’t seem very plausible, and below $30/barrel seems much more likely, possibly well below.  Even at $30/barrel, the oil-cost component of gasoline is about $0.75/gallon.  With transportation, refining, and retailing costs plus taxes (at today’s level), the U.S. price of gas would barely clear $1.50.

Alternative transportation technologies are indeed making real progress.  Energy storage is improving and making electric vehicles credible, if still very expensive.  Biofuels are improving and I read stories that some can compete at $3/gallon, though scalability is still an unresolved question.  I hear frequently from some of my former students who are deeply involved in these exciting ventures.

An alternative fuel vehicle that is cost competitive (including amortized capital costs over the life of the vehicle) with $3/gallon gasoline has a shot at being a successful small or medium scale business.  But to get to a technology that drives oil out of the transportation market for 21st century, that drastically reduces carbon emissions from vehicles, and that does it worldwide without imposing much higher gas taxes – which even relatively-wealthy Americans resist strongly — $3/gallon is still way too high.  The cost of alternative fuel transportation would have to get to half of that or less.

I’m thrilled by the rapid advances we’ve seen recently in alternative energy.  But when it comes to powering transportation, I don’t agree with the advocates who say the mission is nearly accomplished.

Scaling up alternative energy will greatly disrupt the conventional energy markets.  That disruption will cause oil prices to plummet and ratchet up the challenge to alternative transportation. The economics of oil markets mean that the two major roles for government in the fight against climate change – pricing greenhouse gases and supporting research on alternatives – will remain critical for decades to come.

I’m still tweeting energy news articles and new research papers @BorensteinS 

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Energy efficiency is a tough sell- Even when it is “free”!

Almost two weeks into the New Year, how are those resolutions going? Every year, my long list of resolutions includes several tasks I should be doing but have trouble finding time for, like going to the dentist and installing roof insulation (we have none).

It’s January 12 and I’ve already lost motivation to chase any of these to-dos off my list. I find it all too easy to ignore these low-dopamine tasks when something more pressing (or more fun) attracts my attention.


    But wait! This guy makes installing attic insulation look like fun for the whole family!

Take the insulation example. Everyone says that home energy efficiency improvements are good for us. An insulation upgrade reduces energy costs, reduce emissions (if emissions are not subject to a binding cap), and can make winters cozier.  But ask me if I want to spend my Saturday researching the recommended R-value for insulation in my climate zone, and I will come up with a long list of things that are more exhilarating.

Given limited time, motivation, and cognitive capacity, we all have to choose what we pay attention to and what information we act on. In a new E2e Project working paper, my co-authors and I document just how hard it can be to get people to pursue privately beneficial energy efficiency improvements.

Rational inattention?

Economists are increasingly interested in the idea that people possess a finite capacity to process – let alone act on- the information they receive. In the world of energy efficiency, this has some interesting implications.

Jim Sallee notes in a recent paper that “rational inattention” could help explain the apparent  gap between the  investments people make in efficiency improvements and the investments that are privately cost effective. The existence of this gap is largely predicated on cost-benefit analyses, including the famous McKinsey reports, that do not account for the “process costs” of implementing these improvements. If the additional time, hassle, and cognitive effort could be accounted for, the gap would surely look narrower.

This begs the question: how important are these hassle costs in determining the level of energy efficiency investment?

Energy efficiency is a tough sell… even when it is “free”

Co-authors (Michael Greenstone and Catherine Wolfram) and I are working on a study that examines, among other things, the role of information and process costs in households’ decision to pursue efficiency improvements.

We analyze participation in the Federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which aims to reduce the energy burden of low-income Americans by installing energy efficiency measures in their homes. Homeowners stand to benefit significantly from reduced energy bills. Importantly, all hardware and installation costs (averaging around $5000 per household in our study) are paid for by the Federal government.

Although households incur no direct monetary costs to participate, the process of applying for weatherization is onerous and time intensive. We ran a large field experiment in which we significantly reduced information and process costs for a random subset of presumptively eligible households.

Households assigned to our “encouraged” group were inundated with information about the program.  In addition, households were offered extensive personal assistance with completing their application.

To get the word out about both the program and our enrollment assistance, our field staff knocked on 7,000 doors, launched  23,500 targeted “robo-calls”, and mailed thousands of post cards. Once a household signaled interest, our staff would schedule a meeting to assist with the application materials. Over the course of more than 2,700 personal meetings and 9,000 phone calls, our staff worked with households to navigate the application process.

The graph below shows the impact of our efforts to reduce information and process-related barriers to weatherization.


This graph makes two important points.

First, it documents surprisingly low take-up of this substantive (and “free”)  energy efficiency retrofit, even among households that have been informed-  via multiple channels-  about the sizable benefits.  The figure shows that the application rate in our encouraged group is less than 15 percent (up from 2 percent among households that did not receive our encouragement and assistance).

Second, the graph shows an underwhelming response to our overwhelming encouragement efforts. The rate at which households took up the efficiency improvement increased by only 5 percentage points as a result of our encouragement.  In other words, a lot of effort to encourage a relatively small number of efficiency retrofits.

It is important to keep in mind that our intervention eliminated some – but by no means all – of the time and effort required to participate in the program. Households in the treatment group had to actively decide to participate, engage with our staff, meet with contractors, endure the hassle of having a construction team working in their home, etc. One interpretation of these findings is that these remaining hassle and effort costs exceeded the expected benefits from weatherization for a majority of households.

Not worth the hassle?

Our study suggests that non-monetary costs incurred to implement an efficiency retrofit are significant and can be prohibitive. Of course, we should be very cautious about drawing general conclusions from this specific context. For one thing, the importance of process costs is likely to vary across efficiency improvements (surely changing a light bulb requires fewer cognitive resources!).

When it comes to more involved efficiency retrofits, however, these two qualitative findings generalize to my own experience.  In my house, the hassle/time/attention costs of making these kinds of home energy efficiency improvements have been prohibitive. And frankly, it will take a serious nudge to draw my attention away from my other going concerns (parenting, economics, Season 5 of Downton Abbey) up to the bare rafters of my roof.

On this blog, the need for accurate, field-based estimates of returns on energy efficiency investments has been emphasized. But there is also real value in accounting for hard-to-account, non-monetary costs. Taken together, accurate and comprehensive measures of benefits and costs can help policy makers identify the biggest negawatt for their nudge.

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Raise the Gas Tax

On January 1st, California’s cap-and-trade program was expanded to include gasoline and diesel.  Allowance prices are currently $12.58/ton (link), so this increases gasoline prices by $0.10 per gallon and increases diesel prices by about $0.13 per gallon (Severin’s post goes through this calculation). Like Jim and Severin, I strongly support this expansion, and believe this is a necessary step if California is going to follow through on its commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, I’d like to see much higher gasoline and diesel taxes.


Total motor fuel taxes in California are now almost $0.75 per gallon (here). This may seem high, but gasoline and diesel are unlike most other goods that we consume.  Why? Because of externalities.  When we drive we impose a long list of negative externalities on others. Economic efficiency requires that prices reflect both private and external costs and the easiest way to achieve this is with motor fuel taxes.

So how high should gasoline and diesel taxes be?  Economists have been thinking about this for a long time.  Ten years ago the consensus was that the United States should have a tax of about $1.00 per gallon (see e.g., here). But this number has been creeping upward steadily and recent studies put the optimal motor vehicle fuel tax for the U.S. closer to $2.00 per gallon.

The latest study to get a lot of attention on this topic is the International Monetary Fund’s aptly-named report “Getting Energy Prices Right” (here). The study takes on the ambitious task of quantifying energy externalities for over 150 countries. For the United States, they come up with $1.60 per gallon for gasoline, and $2.10 per gallon for diesel.

Why is this so high? Let’s start with carbon dioxide. Burning gasoline emits .008 tons of carbon dioxide per gallon. Views about the external cost of carbon dioxide emissions vary widely, but most recent estimates are considerably higher than current allowance prices under AB-32.  For example, the value currently used by the U.S. federal government is $39 per ton (here). This is more than 3 times current allowance prices under AB-32 and corresponds to a tax of $0.31 per gallon for gasoline and $0.40 per gallon for diesel.

And this is just the beginning. Many economists believe that traffic congestion is the most significant negative externality from driving. When you drive, you impose a negative externality on other drivers in the form of reduced driving speeds. Based on available estimates in the literature, the International Monetary Fund concludes that this externality is a whopping $0.85 per gallon for gasoline in the United States. This is about twice as high as estimates from one decade ago, in part because the value of peoples’ time has gone up.


Perhaps even more important is traffic accidents. Our own Max Auffhammer has done innovative research on this topic (here) together with our UC Berkeley colleague Michael Anderson, finding that drivers impose accident-related costs of almost $1.00 per gallon on other drivers. This works both through miles driven and vehicle weight, which they show has a significant impact on the probability that there is a fatality when accidents occur. Interestingly, Auffhammer and Anderson also show that SUVs and trucks are more dangerous than cars, even after controlling for vehicle weight.

There are other externalities too.  I haven’t mentioned road damage costs or emissions of nitrogen oxides, VOCs, and other local air pollutants.  I haven’t tried to argue that gasoline consumption raises national security concerns by making us dependent on oil-exporting countries. Nor have I talked about how gasoline and diesel taxes would be more efficient than CAFE standards for increasing the fuel efficiency of the fleet.

One could envision more direct approaches for taxing some of these externalities. An efficient congestion tax, for example, would charge people more for driving at 5pm than at 2am. We are beginning to do some of this, for example, with “time-of-use” bridge tolls, but it seems unlikely that anytime soon we will see real-time location-based congestion taxes. Same can be said for more direct taxes aimed at accident externalities, e.g., based on miles traveled, vehicle weight, and other vehicle characteristics. With these more direct approaches out of reach for the moment, gasoline and diesel taxes make sense.

Taxing gasoline and diesel is also a much better way to raise government revenue than taxing wages.  Gasoline has even been shown to be a complement with leisure, i.e., people like to drive around when they aren’t working, which means that a gas tax actually helps undo some of the disincentive to work caused by taxing wages. Economists Sarah West and Rob Williams (here) find that this “cross-elasticity” is large enough to matter in practice.

So the $0.10 increase this week is a great step in the right direction. No question.  But let’s all join the “Pigou Club” and support higher gasoline and diesel taxes. With gasoline prices at their lowest levels in years and the economy turning the corner, now would be a great time to put through a significant tax increase.

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Maybe it’s not all just about dollars and cents

I am a pretty hardcore neoclassical economist. I do think that people generally try and make themselves as happy as possible given budgetary and other physical constraints. I do think firms try to maximize profits. I do believe that smart government policy can correct market failures (e.g. negative externalities like pollution, inadequate provision of public goods, asymmetric information). I do believe that markets are an incredible way to allocate scarce resources.

Underlying this belief system is an assumption that participants in markets have easy access to reliable information about pretty much everything. This is clearly not true in many settings, but when it comes to bigger purchases individuals tend to go to great lengths to gather as much information about possible alternative options. So when it came to buying a new car, I tried to channel my inner Zettelmeyer/Knittel and got every piece of information I could find on hybrid, Diesel, and plugin hybrid vehicles in my price range. I test drove all of them. I had spreadsheets that took into account basic things like the number of miles driven, depreciation, fuel cost, changes in electric rates, length of average trip taken etc., etc.

I settled on the Ford C-Max Plug-in hybrid. Even though I complained that even under reasonable increases in gas prices the plugin had similar if not worse costs per mile, the subsidies were just too good. Even if I did not plug it in, I would not be worse off than had I bought the regular hybrid.

Now it’s a month later and my neoclassical soul is deeply in love. It’s got nothing to do with my a priori dollars and cents calculations. Here is what I have learned:

  • I literally feel like I am a better person driving down the road. If I dim my configurable cabin lighting, and squint my eyes, I can see my own halo. Watch me snicker at those earth crushing SUVs and their clearly non-haloed drivers.
  • My Teutonic road rage tendencies have disappeared. Why? My car is so quiet. At the traffic light, all I hear is some quiet Schubert oozing out of the speakers reaching for my halo. And while I am driving, the absence of that Rambo-esque roar from my former turbo engine lowers my testosterone levels by a lot.
  • I am no longer maximizing quarter mile speed on the on ramp. I am trying to squeeze every last mile out of that battery pack in the back. Those AB32 covered kWhs I pumped in there better last all the way to Berkeley.
  • My kid loves (un)plugging the car every day. It makes me feel like I am investing in a future generation’s appreciation for low carbon transport. OK, maybe I am taking this a bit too far.
  • I don’t spend time at gas stations. The weekly trip has turned into a monthly trip. That will surely diminish my Snickers consumption as well.

So while I could squeeze all of the above into some fancy economic model, which involves learning by using, this did not enter my financial calculations that made me choose this car. I would like to end 2014 by saying that I sometimes tend to take the net present value calculations a card carrying neoclassical economist is supposed to base every decision on a bit too seriously. I may just use 2015 to go and live a little. Who knows, maybe I’ll even install some solar PV on my roof (which actually might be the right decision purely based on a NPV calculation).

I wish all of you a very good start into 2015 and we will see you back here next year. There are many exciting developments in the world of energy and we will blog about them right here!

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Good Energy Reading for the Beach?

I used to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my in-laws in Portland, OR. A couple years ago, it snowed for two days straight, and the city shut down. My brother-in-law has taken it upon himself to find a warm-weather holiday destination for the family ever since.

beach-palm-sea-tropical-awesomeAs I head for the beach, I’d love guidance on good reading material. For starters, below are a couple books I’ve come across or that colleagues have recommended.

  1. The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World, by Russell Gold. I’ve gotten a lot of endorsements for this. Colleagues claim it is very well written and a thorough treatment of fracking, including technological, environmental, economic and social aspects. Gold is an energy reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
  1. Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West, by Judith Nies. My husband just finished this – kind of the energy version of the movie Chinatown (which I’ve watched, so won’t be downloading for the trip – I recommend it if you have not seen it). It describes the politics and business deals that unlocked 21 billion tons of coal on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations to bring electricity to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
  1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba. This is an autobiographical story about a boy in Malawi who built a windmill from scratch to bring energy to his village. He is discovered by NGOs and reporters and eventually invited to do a neat TED talk/interview. Again, multiple recommendations for this.
  1. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future, by Paul Sabin. This uses a famous bet between two academics over the future path of prices for five raw materials to examine the resource catastrophe movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Severin Borenstein describes it as, “essential context for understanding the climate change debate today, both the similarities and the critical differences.”
  1. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. This is not an energy book (the power in the title is a synonym for “might” on the world stage), but I had to put it on the list as Lucas Davis pointed out that some of their best evidence comes from comparing electricity/lighting use between S. and N. Korea. I love world-at-night pictures, and this one is impressive.


  1. Waiting for the Electricity: A Novel, by Christina Nichol. This is the only entry in the fiction category, but I am a sucker for fiction with an energy theme. The Wall Street Journal included it on their best books of 2014 list (though maybe this is like taking stock tips from the New York Review of Books…?)

Any thoughts, loyal blog readers? If you’ve read these books, which would you recommend? Any others to add to the list?

I debated adding The Prize, by Daniel Yergin, but (a) I’m the lone holdout in my family and don’t own a Kindle, so I can’t imagine lugging that to the beach, and (b) I have read parts of it already.

Happy Holidays!

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