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New book combines basic science, politics of energy

A husband-and-wife team of SUNY Oswego faculty members, Tim Braun of chemistry and Lisa Glidden of political science, have written "Understanding Energy and Energy Policy," a book combining the basic science of energy sources -- from wind to fossil fuels, from hydropower to solar power -- and a global look at policymaking approaches and practicalities.

A husband-and-wife team of SUNY Oswego faculty members, Tim Braun of chemistry and Lisa Glidden of political science, have written "Understanding Energy and Energy Policy," a book combining the basic science of energy sources -- from wind to fossil fuels, from hydropower to solar power -- and a global look at policymaking approaches and practicalities.

OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego faculty members Lisa Glidden of political science and Tim Braun of chemistry filled a gap in the resources for a course they co-teach on the politics of energy by literally writing the book on it.

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A husband-and-wife team of SUNY Oswego faculty members, Tim Braun of chemistry and Lisa Glidden of political science, have written “Understanding Energy and Energy Policy,” a book combining the basic science of energy sources — from wind to fossil fuels, from hydropower to solar power — and a global look at policymaking approaches and practicalities.

“Understanding Energy and Energy Policy” ships this month from Amazon and other resources.

The 209-page book aims to be “a one-stop resource for understanding the complexities of energy policy and the science behind the utilization of energy resources,” according to the publisher, Zed Books.

A reviewer, Karen Litfin of the University of Washington and an author in the sustainability field, said of the book, “If education is the safeguard of democracy, this book offers not only a first-rate intellectual synthesis but also a vital political contribution.”

Glidden likes the quote, because it’s at the heart of the main reason she and Braun — the two not only partner in a course and now a byline, they partner in marriage — wrote the book.

“We already know there’s no sustained policy that comes out of a crisis,” she said. “What we are hoping is that an informed, engaged citizenry will start asking these kinds of questions of their representatives and start demanding certain kinds of energy policies.”

The idea for a book on energy policymaking combined with the basic science behind energy sources — nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, hydropower and fossil fuels — came about as Glidden and SUNY Oswego physics faculty member Alok Kumar developed and co-taught the course “Comparative Energy Policy.” They found multidisciplinary resources lacking.

Additionally, Glidden realized that most books dealing with energy policy were America-centric, and she wanted to do country case studies to take a more global approach.

With Kumar busy on two other book contracts, Braun — who had been answering many questions at home for his wife about science — took over as co-teacher and eventually as co-author.

At an International Studies Conference, Glidden said, she described their idea to a representative of Zed Books, and the publisher enthusiastically endorsed it.

Rich mix

There is a chapter on each major class of resource, featuring a rich mix of simply stated scientific explanations, alternative technologies within each resource, U.S. issues and policy, case studies of several other nations and a conclusion that sets the terms for potential solutions that include the resource.

The book does not try to incite controversy, but the authors acknowledge there are many hot-button issues in global energy policymaking, including global warming and hydrofracking. Braun said there was “a little bit” of contention even on the home front.

“We have the same end point, but subtly different factors that we weigh to get there,” he said.

The cross-discipline course they teach is no different. Science students see a problem, work hard to reach a solution then, as Braun said, wonder why the government “can’t just go out and spend $2 trillion on all these solar projects.

“Political science students see the barriers, nuances and practicalities of policy development,” Glidden said.

Energy policy is full of questions, they said: What should the energy mix be to reduce dependency on fossil fuels? What about lesser-known alternatives such as deep-heat geothermal that relies on drilling for miles to access the heat stored within the Earth’s crust? Or solar-thermal storage, where 2 square kilometers of mirrors focus on a 5-square-meter point to boil water for steam-generated electricity that can be stored? And with political gridlock in Washington, is it hopeless to sort through all the alternatives and the issues in a deliberative way to arrive at policies?

“I don’t think it’s hopeless,” Glidden said. “What would give them traction would be people actually advocating for something based on solid understanding. People have a lot more power than they imagine, and we really have abdicated it for a long time.”

Glidden and Braun hope their book interests students, but also potentially a mass market.

“We tried to write it as down-to-earth as possible and not bury people in technical jargon,” Braun said.