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The Quest book by Daniel Yergin • books on energy • history of energy • sources of energy

Book cover of The Quest book by Daniel Yergin - energy sources

The Quest is a study of energy sources and energy policy and its implications in international politics and economics. But first of all, I think it would be useful to make a short introduction of the author of the book, Daniel Yergin. Time magazine said – if there is one person whose opinion matters more than any other on global energy markets, it’s Daniel Yergin. The New York Times described him as America’s most influential energy pundit. Fortune said that he is one of the planet’s foremost thinkers about energy and its implications. He is known around the world for his book,  The Prize, the epic quest for oil, money and power, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

The Quest covers the whole spectrum from conventional energy, oil natural gas, electric power, climate change, the new energy solar renewables, the electric cars and tries to look at them all in perspective and see if they could be put all together. The book is about three major questions about energy today. The first is the question about growth and about cycles where we’re running out of energy sources and where we have an abundance of energy. Today there is more confidence in the physical supply, but, on the other hand, we know that there’s a challenge in the economic growth of the emerging markets. Yergin believes that around two decades from now the world would be using somewhere between thirty and forty per cent more energy, so the big question is how’s that going to be achieved and what’s that’s going to be.

The second big question is – is energy secure? The book tells that energy security and the traditional issues of energy security are still very much on the agenda as a few decades ago. It’s the confrontation and the standoff with Iran as well as turmoil in the whole Middle East, but they’re three new dimensions to it. Physical security in terms of terrorism. The second aspect is kind of what the author call – an integrated energy shock when some natural disaster devastates the whole infrastructure. This is the situation where everything is down at the same time, you don’t have power, you don’t have fuel, emergency vehicles can’t get fuel from petrol stations because they don’t have electric power to get the fuel out and you have the immobilisation of a region. The third thing that’s new is the cyber threat and it’s been recognised certainly for the last few years, but it’s now at a higher level.

The third big question is the environment question. It does really gain the kind of political traction that we now see, where it has become such a key defining issue for the entire energy sector.

For me, the most interesting parts of the book were about security and technology. The whole part of the book about the Middle East, which is still the kind of the centre of world supplies, and other factors which create question marks, such as unfolding of the Arab Spring, the youth bulge and the distribution of the population. In industrial countries and in the Middle East it is very dramatic where you see this large young population that doesn’t have jobs and many opportunities which create a huge source of uncertainty in those countries. Other factors are al Qaeda and its affiliates or conflicts in Algeria or Syria which are not important oil producers, but what happens in Syria affects the whole region, from Iraq, Turkey and Israel, perhaps the Gulf. Then the question of Iran, as the book details, where sanctions placed by the US government have worked more successfully than it was thought, but this doesn’t mean that there’s going to be the same kind of settlement to address the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

When it comes to technology, when we talk about renewables, there is wind, solar and biofuels that are the main things out there. Nevertheless, these technologies are under their rebirth partly because of climate change concerns, partly because of the need for energy sources and partly because of its technological progress. The renewables are now a big business, however, following the author, it’s has a period of great optimism and more pressure in an age of austerity because, while costs have come down dramatically, it still does depend upon government budgets. Next, the biggest innovation in energy since 2000 is shale gas the whole technology of its extraction from shale rock. It was really interesting to read about the US which moved from the belief that they were going to import large amounts of LNG, and suddenly instead of importing, they export LNG to other countries. Of course, there are still some huge environmental question marks about chemicals and water used in the process of extraction. Following the author, there are three concerns: what do you do with wastewater? What about air pollution and air quality? What about Community Impact? It seemed that these issues are all about remediation of each element. It is also a subject to regulation, best practices and technology.

In conclusion, I have to say that the book is great. It’s very informative and helps you to put many energy issues and political conflicts into a broader perspective. However, what this story is really about is our future and, underpinning this narrative, our major questions how will we find the energy to fuel what in 20 years may be a global economy that is twice as large as our current economy. How can we assure the security of our energy supplies, on which we rely, against threats ranging from political upheaval, as we’ve seen in Libya, to natural disasters like hurricanes or flood, to what has been called the bad new world of cyberwar? How will the rise of climate change be a major political issue? How the change of our future sources of energy mix will continue to be the central point for the geopolitics of our planet? How the rise of China, India and the other emerging economies will change in new and unexpected ways? Last but not least, how technology will be central to solutions for our energy challenges, after all, energy has been a technology business since James Watt built his first steam engine.

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World
by Daniel Yergin

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

In the article I made use of a few author’s interviews.

Book details:

Size: 805 pages
Published: 2011


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
Daniel Yergin’s website:
Daniel Yergin on Wikipedia:
An interview with Daniel Yergin at McKinsey:
Other book about geopolitics and energy sources: World Order by Henry Kissinger

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