The best books to understand the future potential of renewable energy

Who am I?

I’ve dedicated my career to renewable energy, because I think it really will save us from climate change disaster. Solar, wind, and advanced energy storage will usher us into the 21st century. I’ve seen many innovative people and companies use technology to create a better future. We still have a long uphill battle to reverse climate change, but we now have the technology that can help save our planet. It is time to implement it. These five books (in very different ways) give us the tools and understanding of how renewable energy will shape the future.

I wrote...

Off Grid Solar: A handbook for Photovoltaics with Lead-Acid or Lithium-Ion batteries

By Joseph P. O'Connor,

Book cover of Off Grid Solar: A handbook for Photovoltaics with Lead-Acid or Lithium-Ion batteries

What is my book about?

Off Grid Solar is a reference guide for builders of solar and battery projects. Written with a DIY mindset, this book establishes a familiarity with off grid equipment, such as solar panels, charge controllers, inverters, and battery systems. This book will help the reader make better decisions using a step-by-step process to build the right energy system for their needs. Design and build your own solar and battery system without the need to hire a solar installation company. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

Why did I love this book?

I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted by all of the negative news coverage about climate change as a disaster. I was particularly excited to see Gates write a book focused on solutions and actions we can take to avoid a climate disaster. Real solutions to climate change are complex and require global cooperation, a large team of experts, and political influence. 

Up until this book I was disappointed in Gates' take on renewable energy. Gates closely matched Vaclav Smil’s dated point of view on renewables, assuming they are an expensive technology that will never significantly influence our energy production mix. In hindsight, Gates and Smil were wrong and thankfully Gates changed his point of view in this book. He suggests that we ramp up on renewable energies like solar, wind, and energy storage as fast as possible. 

I like this book because it maps out the clearest path towards reversing climate change, covering necessary policy changes to technological innovations.

By Bill Gates,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked How to Avoid a Climate Disaster as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this urgent, authoritative book, Bill Gates sets out a wide-ranging, practical - and accessible - plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet's slide toward certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions…

Book cover of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change

Why did I love this book?

Humans have been aware of man-made climate change since the late 1800s, but in the 1990s fossil fuel industries used a tactic pioneered by the tobacco industry to create misinformation and control the narrative about climate change and global warming. By casting doubt about the reality of climate change using the same tactics as Big Tobacco used to downplay the negative health effects of cigarettes, Big Oil created a “debate” where there was none. Suddenly, the public began to feel as if experts were confused and disagreed on the data, when in truth, the scientific consensus was clear all along. 

Transitioning away from fossil fuels is challenging enough, but it is even harder when fossil fuel companies—the most powerful and profitable companies on the planet—are steering the ship in the exact wrong direction and manipulating the public in order to maintain their power. Humans don’t do well with change, but the rich and powerful have much more to lose with change. They’d prefer to run business as usual, but unfortunately, our planet can’t handle that much longer. 

I recommend this book because it gets to the root cause of the ongoing climate misinformation campaign and gives context as to why climate deniers exist, while explaining how media messaging has been hijacked.

By Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Merchants of Doubt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific…

Book cover of Electrify: An Optimist's Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future

Why did I love this book?

I’ve been working in the solar and battery industry for over 15 years and I can say firsthand that it is totally feasible to electrify everything in your home and live comfortably. Griffith recommends that you should never buy a new fossil fuel appliance ever again. Switching to an electric vehicle, all-electric kitchen appliances, and heat pumps primes us to have a carbon-free home in the future, even if our electrical usage currently relies on fossil fuels. Appliances with a life of 10 to 30 years will eventually be powered by renewables as they get installed on the grid.

Although this transition won't be easy. Appliance manufacturers need some time to improve the reliability of these new electric appliances. Imagine the frustration after installing an expensive, new heat pump water heater and it breaks after two weeks! In addition, some industries will have a very hard time going fully electric, such as aviation and steel and concrete production. We will need to innovate in the next few decades to create renewable fuels from electricity for these energy-intensive industries.

By Saul Griffith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Electrify as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An optimistic--but realistic and feasible--action plan for fighting climate change while creating new jobs and a healthier environment: electrify everything.

Climate change is a planetary emergency. We have to do something now—but what? Saul Griffith has a plan. In Electrify, Griffith lays out a detailed blueprint—optimistic but feasible—for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith’s plan can be summed up simply: electrify everything. He explains exactly what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our grid, and adapt our households to make this possible. Billionaires may contemplate escaping our worn-out planet on…

Book cover of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All

Why did I love this book?

The impending doom of climate change has been stressing me out for over a decade. It feels like my son will inherit a world that resembles the dystopian futures of Mad Max or Blade Runner. But the future we’re entering into will be more nuanced than that. 

This book helped me realize that the future may not be as bleak as I had once imagined. The environmental alarmists may have good intentions, but their efforts might be causing more harm than good.

By Michael Shellenberger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Apocalypse Never as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a National Bestseller!

Climate change is real but it's not the end of the world. It is not even our most serious environmental problem.

Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world's last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today's Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions.

But in 2019, as some claimed "billions of people are going to die," contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong…

Book cover of Deep Time Reckoning: How Future Thinking Can Help Earth Now

Why did I love this book?

Pro-nuclear advocates often dodge the nuclear waste problem, claiming that the fuel waste is small in volume and easy to store underground. Unfortunately, nuclear waste remains radioactive for millions of years, causing a long-term toxic liability for generations to come. For perspective, homo sapiens have been around for 300,000 years and agriculture for 12,000 years. How will we communicate with future earthlings to protect them from accessing this harmful radioactive waste?

I like this book because it broadened my sense of time. In this book, the author interviews Finland’s nuclear waste team who are tasked with predicting geological events over tens of thousands of years. These are data-driven experts constructing models of possible futures and the challenges of storing nuclear waste just get more interesting the deeper you go.

By Vincent Ialenti,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Deep Time Reckoning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A guide to long-term thinking: how to envision the far future of Earth.

We live on a planet careening toward environmental collapse that will be largely brought about by our own actions. And yet we struggle to grasp the scale of the crisis, barely able to imagine the effects of climate change just ten years from now, let alone the multi-millennial timescales of Earth's past and future life span. In this book, Vincent Ialenti offers a guide for envisioning the planet's far future—to become, as he terms it, more skilled deep time reckoners. The challenge, he says, is to learn…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in environmentalism, global warming, and environmental policy?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about environmentalism, global warming, and environmental policy.

Environmentalism Explore 164 books about environmentalism
Global Warming Explore 59 books about global warming
Environmental Policy Explore 25 books about environmental policy

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Drawdown, A Cold Welcome, and The Uninhabitable Earth if you like this list.