Renewable “green” energy will be the biggest industry in the history of humankind. Jay Warmke’s When the Biomass Hits the Wind Turbine is a great way to learn all about it.
Jay is blessed with an off-beat sense of humor and a wonderful way of narrating truly earth-shattering history with aplomb and a light, loving touch. “I don’t remember a time when the world wasn’t about to end,” he begins.
Neither do I.
But given this summer’s life-threatening heat, its record drought and on-going string of apocalyptic ecological disasters, we could be easily convinced that unless we do something—NOW!—our ability to live on this earth could indeed come to a crashing halt.
With his wife and collaborator, Annie, Jay has founded an ecological community called Blue Rock Station, near Zanesville, Ohio. It features green power along with tours and classes designed to further our knowledge and commitment to a world worth saving.
His book opens with some obligatory personal history from a guy who grew up when “the price of fossil fuels is way too cheap.”
To explain why, Jay backs us up to 1491, the year before native Americans discovered Christopher Columbus on their beach. We learn about charcoal, peat and the reason the Mayans dropped from a population of 14 million all the way down to 30,000 (hint: it had to do with energy and trees).
We learn that Pope Celestine 3 believed that since wind came from God, His church had the right to issue (or deny) permits for windmills. Warmke says as many as 4,000 operated in England when William the Conqueror took a census in 1086. The number jumped to more than 10,000 a century later.
None of them were used to generate electricity, discovered by Ben Franklin not with a kite (he would’ve been fatally electrocuted) but with a parlor game device that generated shocks just for the fun of it. It was Franklin who invented the term “battery” when he hooked up Leyden jars in sequence and used the system to zap a chicken. Ben later reported that the electrocuted meat was “uncommonly tender.”
But for all the fun history—and there’s a lot of it in this book—the most interesting time is the present. As Warmke points out, the era of the photovoltaic (PV) cell is rapidly accelerating. “The installed base of PV within the U.S. has more than doubled,” he says. Since 1980 the price of PV modules has dropped from more than $20/watt to well under $5. As General Electric and others have confirmed, the price of solar-generated electricity—long dismissed as being far too high to be practical—is about to drop below installed new coal generators.
Which means, simply put, that even if you’re a 1 percent billionaire who hates hippies and the planet, you’re still going to invest in solar over nuclear, coal or oil.
In fact, says Warmke, in the face of the Solartopian revolution, the whole fossil/nuclear business is nothing but smoke and mirrors. “For the foreseeable future,” he writes,”the battle for newly installed electric power will be between natural gas, wind and solar.”