A tough day for building physicists and environmentalists

Today Professor David Mackay of the Department of Physics in Cambridge and former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) lost his battle with cancer.

Professor Mackay was the reason a lot of my colleagues moved into low energy design, microgeneration technology and sustainability industries.

to those who will not have the benefit of two billion years' accumulated energy reserves - David Mackay
Mackay dedicated his book about the potential for sustainable energy to the people who will live after fossil fuels are all gone.

He was one of the first scientists to outline the effects of humanity’s energy consumption in clear, concise mathematical terms, and he argued the strong potential to move from our fossil fuel lifestyles to one founded in renewable and sustainable energy. He provided that hope in demonstrable science, and forced change upon an energy industry previously reluctant to adapt its business fundamentals.

For that, he improved the world, and his legacy will go on.

Simple numbers that explain our modern problem with energy consumption

Professor Mackay pioneered an approach to energy consumption that demystified the science and simplified the concept of energy used versus energy created in straightforward maths. He made the physics behind energy use easy to understand.

The book he wrote on energy consumption in the modern world is one of the most influential books in science (ever), and certainly in environmental and physical circles. Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air launched hundreds of careers in the sustainable energies and low energy design sector.

I’m currently reading my colleague’s copy. It has a message written by David to my colleague after Professor Mackay visited one of the company’s first low energy retrofits in London a few years ago, Lena Gardens in Richmond, the first PassivHaus in the UK.

The impact this book and Professor Mackay’s position advising the UK government made at DECC certainly helped destroy some of the more damaging Greenwashing going on in the energy industry at the time.

He answered a lot of questions that weren’t easy to answer:

  • What are the options if we want to kick our addiction to fossil fuels?
  • Can renewable energies replace fossil fuels?
  • Can we live off sustainable energies, without compromising our lifestyle?
  • Can new tech solve our carbon problems?
  • How can the entire world pull together to solve our energy problems?

And testament to his wise and generous nature Professor Mackay made the book available for free, forever.

Blog-posts will follow as I move through the book. I urge you all to read it and pay small homage to a scientist that did so much for the future viability of our species, the creatures we live with and the green earth we live on.

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