Energy and Power: A Reading List

A crash course in the future of electricity and energy

3 min read

A large wind turbine.
Image credit: PeterDargatz

Almost everything we do uses energy. Look around you, and count up the number of things you see that are battery- or grid-powered–you’ll run out of fingers before you run out of objects. The energy infrastructure that underpins our modern lives may seem sprawling and complex, but how it works and the key issues surrounding it are easy to understand if you take a little time to read about the subject.

That’s why, as part of our Power Up section, we’ve compiled a reading list that’ll bring you up to speed quickly on the issues at hand.


“Throughout space there is energy. It is a question of time when men will succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature.”

–Nikola Tesla, 1892


Start Here

The best summary of how we should look at the competing forms of energy production in the coming decades is David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy–Without the Hot Air:

It covers pretty much everything you could want to know about fossil fuels, renewables, and nuclear energy. If you’ve read the synopsis and want to tackle the full (free) 380-page book, then start with parts I and II.


Then Try


Dive Deeper





  • What Is Energy?
    Understanding how energy works on a scientific level is crucial to understanding it on a macroeconomic level. Thankfully, SciShow put together this wonderful explanation. [4-minute YouTube clip]
  • Electricity Generation
    Also important to understand is how power plants operate. Different types of power perform in different ways–this video gives a nice overview. [5-minute YouTube clip]
  • Power Trip
    This award-winning documentary charts the electricity crisis in Georgia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s a fantastic glimpse into how vital the world’s energy infrastructure is–and what how it can be used as a form of political power, too. [86-minute film]
  • The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power
    Adapted from the book by the same name (which won a Pulitzer), The Prize is a PBS documentary offering the history of the oil industry in eight parts. It intertwines oil, politics, and international power structures from the 1850s through to 1990. [Eight 53-minute episodes]
  • Burning in the Sun
    This award-winning documentary charts entrepreneur Daniel Dembele’s quest to start a business building solar panels in Mali, electrifying rural communities that live without power. [22-minute movie]
  • Into Eternity
    This spooky Danish documentary looks at the construction of a permanent nuclear waste repository on Olkiluoto island in Finland. Rather than answering questions, it asks them–how can we as a species deal with waste that’ll be toxic for far longer than any of us will be alive? And how can we best warn future generations of its effects? Buy it on DVD here. [79-minute film]
  • Top 10 Energy Sources of the Future
    Looking forward, this shorter clip presents some of the potential energy options for the future–from algal biofuels and hydrogen cells to nuclear fusion and space-based solar. [13-minute YouTube clip]
  • How to Build a Basic Portable Solar Power System
    Finally, here’s a short how-to guide for creating a small solar-power system for use in a campsite, an off-grid shack, or on a boat. Every component is detailed and explained, as well as how they all fit together. [6-minute YouTube clip]

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Power Up section, which looks at the future of electricity and energy. Click the logo to read more.