Book Review: Power Plays by Robert Rapier

Book Review: Power Plays by Robert Rapier

Title: POWER PLAYS – Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil

By: Robert Rapier

ISBN: 978-1-4302-4086-0

Published: 2012

Publisher: Apress

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Reviewer: Anthony

POWER PLAYS – Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil

Robert Rapier is a Chemical Engineer and has lived in a good few Countries since he started work. He has lived in Oklahoma, Texas, Germany, Montana, Scotland, the Netherlands and presently Hawaii. This experience shows  in his perspectives and writings. He contributes occasionally to The Oil Drum but the book comes across as being much more thoughtful and balanced than his entries in The Oil Drum. He mostly now contributes articles to his regular energy column R-Squared Energy.

Power Plays by Robert Rapier

Contents of Power Plays

Power Plays is laid out very logically as you would expect from an engineer. He lays out our dependence on liquid fossil fuels and common misunderstandings of our present situation. He gives a good but brief account of the chief sources of energy to our modern civilization.


He continues in Chapter 3 to give an account of the concept of Sustainability as it applies to renewable energy. He makes the point that it is necessary to transition through renewables which are not fully sustainable to reach the goal of full sustainability in energy production. In this context The perfect is the enemy of the good in my opinion.

Chapter 4 gives a very good but concise account of how energy gets from the producer to the consumer. Chapter 5 does the same for Global Warming with none of the Climate Change denial clap-trap one sees from most Americans. His time in Europe seems to have cured him of that particular delusion.

The remaining chapters go through the problems we face through the inability to grow liquid fuel production from now on. Chapter 11 is about the race to replace oil and I have not read a fairer description of the various alternatives and believe me I have extensive experience in trying to produce an alternative fuel. It is not easy in the face of the sharks of the liquid fossil fuel industry in an environment where group-think and regulatory capture are the norm.

Oil Free Transportation

In Chapter 12 Robert lays out our options for oil free transportation and in Chapter 13 he cuts into corn ethanol. In my opinion worrying about turning food into fuel is not the problem. The problem is the promotion of excessive consumption of unhealthy foods which take up to ten times more land to grow than the more healthy alternatives. More and more studies and recommendations have promoted the change back to a more healthy diet. The paradoxical point is that if this occurs it would free farmland for the production of bio-fuels. A win-win situation. But this will not occur because of the misguided strength of the present food production lobby. In fact the developing world is fast changing onto our diet – what a disaster for health and our planet.

In the remaining Chapters Robert goes through the politics of energy in the US and its implications. In the last Chapter he lays out three tenets which describe his carefully considered view of the energy problem.

From my experience in Wind Energy and in Bio-fuels I think his views are very important and I would rate this book as the best one I have read on this subject.

Power Plays by Robert Rapier – A very important must read.


Robert Rapier’s Energy Musts

  1. Because fossil fuels are a depleting resource that present special economic and environmental risks, we must plan for an orderly transition to more sustainable energy sources.

  2. As we make the transition to an economy built on more sustainable sources of energy, we must ensure that we have adequate energy supplies during the transition and carefully evaluate the trade-offs from our energy policy decisions.

  3. In the process of producing energy , we must take care of our air, water and especially our topsoil to preserve our ability to feed the world’s population.



“Someones sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”

- Warren Buffett




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