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


Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future by Saul Griffith

Electrify, Saul Griffith’s book from late last year, reminds me in a lot of ways of Bill Gates’ February 2021 book  How to Avoid a Climate Disaster (which I reviewed here). Both books are by noted entrepreneurs and optimistic realists who lay out practical, fact based ways to transform our energy usage and avert the worst impacts of climate change.

But where Gates’ book is written primarily for an audience of businessmen and government policymakers, Griffith’s book, while it does have some of the same focus, is more directly aimed at you and me. Electrify talks a lot about the average household and its use of energy, and steps we can and should be taking to move our own household systems to greener alternatives.

Griffith is originally from Australia, and holds a PhD from MIT. He is an engineer and inventor, and the founder of numerous technology companies. A lot of his work is focused on R&D. With his independent R&D lab Otherlab his focus is on energy infrastructure and decarbonization.  You can think of him as an energy nerd.

As you might expect from a book by an energy nerd, this one is filled with charts and graphs. But unlike many nerds, Griffith actually knows how to explain things in easily understood language. I found the charts really helpful in selling some of the “aha” moments contained in the book.

One of the best insights Griffith provides is the potential for cost savings from renewable energy, not just for energy producers but for you and me. In Chapter 11 of the book, titled Bringing it All Home, Griffith walks through the potential cost savings for the average household from renewable energy. Griffiths crunches through the numbers and finds that, if we do an okay job of energy transformation, each household could save around $1000 per year in energy costs. This is spread across savings in heating, powering our appliances, and savings from moving to electric cars. If we do a great job of energy transformation, each household stands to save between $2000 and $3000 per year. (Note, this is based on a US average household spend of $60,000 per year  - your mileage may vary). 

As Griffiths points out elsewhere in the book, the trends are all downwards in terms of the cost per kWh of renewable energy sources, while fossil fuels pretty much stay the same. As a mature technology, fossil fuel based electric generation has already had a long history of efficiencies to ring more power out of less fuel. But renewables are catching up fast, and in some cases have already surpassed fossil fuels.

It’s a hopeful book, as the title indicates. But even though the arguments here are about what you and I can do, its still not at the level of the “How To Guide & Cookbook for Energy Transformation of Your Home” that I might like to have. It is an entertaining and educational read full of ideas that will get readers excited and pointed in the right direction. The next step is up to us.

RATING: Three and a Half Stars ⭐⭐⭐🌠

NOTE: The Hardcover, Ebook and Audiobook are currently available. The paperback edition will be released on October 4, 2022.

By the way, after reading this book one of the directions my mind went was to ask myself what’s going to happen to all the gasoline powered cars we’ve all got in our garages when we all buy new EVs? Is anyone thinking about converting those cars? Well, it turns out it’s already happening in small shops all over. To me, that is a really encouraging sign. 

Here are a couple of fun videos I found that show just how widespread this is. The first is from 2016, here in the US, showing the conversion of a Karmann Ghia. This was a three month project and included a total restoration of the body also. The second is from last year, and shows the conversion of a Volkswagen Beetle. This conversion, which included only swapping out the gas power for electric power, was done in one day!

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Title: Electrify: An Optimist's Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future

Author: Saul Griffith

Publisher: The MIT Press

Publish Date: October 4, 2022

ISBN-13: 9780262545044

Publisher’s List Price: $18.95 Trade Paperback