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"When the Biomass Hits the Wind Turbine"

A Review by Harvey Wasserman

Renewable "green" energy will be the biggest industry in the history of humankind. Jay Warmke's "When the Biomass Hits the Wind Turbine" (BRS Media: Philo, Ohio) 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. It features green power along with tours and classes designed to further our knowledge and commitment to a world worth saving.

BIOMASS opens with some obligatory personal history from a guy 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'd'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 US 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% 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."

But the horrifically destructive fracking process by which natural gas is being mined is ecologically and economically unsustainable. Aside from destroying our water and bringing on earthquakes, Jay writes, fracking simply does not pay. It's heavily subsidized, barely covers investment if at all, and will not last. Ditto tar sands, the Keystone Pipeline and all the other insanely expensive eco-ripoffs being perpetrated by the corporate elite.

Instead, says Warmke, we're now in the midst of the greatest technological revolution in history, and its color green stands for both the planet and profit. As knowledge and mastery of PV improves, every building, every machine, every vehicle will be covered with it.

Like wind power, biofuels and nearly all other green energy technologies, PV power stations nearly always come on line ahead of schedule and under budget. And they are always "misunderestimated." According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century , projections for how far and fast green energy would spread have been consistently low-balled. And not by a little. In many cases the predictions for the spread of renewable energy have been off by a factor of ten and more, in terms of energy produced, dollars invested and viability of market price.

To help prove the point Warmke provides a fascinating history of the electric car. It was, after all, the original plan of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to have a global auto industry based on batteries. As you ran out of charge, you simply drove into a station and traded out your limp battery for a freshly charged one.

But back then the power of the oil cartels was stronger than the magnetism of an electric vehicle. Rockefeller's petroleum---which had been used primarily to produce kerosene for lighting---suddenly became the basis for a new fuel called gasoline (airplanes still fly on a variation of the original kerosene).

Way too late, we are finding our way out of the fossil fuel dead end. Worldwide hybrid sales have jumped from virtually zero in 1997 to nearly 700,000 just 13 years later.

And as solar/wind-driven electricity skyrockets in popularity, the electric car has returned. It has come most importantly in the form of the hybrid, especially Toyota's Prius. Initially dismissed by bloviating "experts," the gas/electric combo is delivering 60mpg and more in commercially available automobiles that look a hell of a lot like "regular" gas-driven planet killers.

In his brilliant chapter on "The Rebirth of the Electric Car," Warmke predicts that within 30 years half of all passenger cars will be electric or hybrid (if green patterns hold true, it will come a lot sooner). The most serious problem today, Jay says, may be that battery technology currently limits the range of an electric vehicle to 100 miles or less on a single charge.

But most people don't drive anywhere near that many miles every day. An automobile is usually on the road an hour a day or less. The batteries are rapidly improving. And "electric filling stations" are starting to proliferate. The heavily travelled Route 5 Corridor through Washington, Oregon and California is about to host the West Coast Electric Highway, with charging stations every 40-60 miles along the way. With the speed and power of the charge improving daily, 2 million or more electric cars may travel Route 5 alone.

But what makes green energy so exciting in general is its astonishing adaptability. According to Warmke, a new breakthrough now involves "the invention of a process whereby photovoltaic panels can actually be produced in a manner very similar to printing."

And, he says, "by printing the photovoltaic energy source directly on the surface of nearly any suitable product (be it paper or cloth or plastic), the only added cost will be in the production, not in the material."

As that happens, electrical generation will be EVERYWHERE. Politically, it will undercut the power of the energy corporations in particular, and all corporations in general. Distributed generation, as it's often called, will mean everyone can generate and use their own industrial energy, regardless of what the corporate 1% has to say or wants to charge.

Overall, Jay Warmke's often funny, always compelling excursion to Solartopia makes it clear that when it comes to green power, "opportunities abound that will make the Industrial Revolution look like a second-rate warm-up act for the real show."

And the real show is a green-powered economy that is sustainable, inexpensive and provides jobs for all those who want them.

As Warmke concludes: "One thing is certain. It's sure going to be exciting."

As is his book. Take it, read it and enjoy. Then go out and work. Shut a nuke. Stop a coal-burner. End fracking.

I'm sure if you visit Jay and Annie at Blue Rock Station, they'll have some suggestions. And that they'll be every bit as fun, provocative and productive as this excellent book.

Originally posted to harveywasserman on Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 01:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by Good News.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What we really need to make major (9+ / 0-)

    inroads into Red State thinking is a Volt like pickup truck.  Protean is making one now but at over $70,000 a pop, it's way over the affordable standard.  But a pickup with a small diesel engine (bio-diesel for the rural areas of course) charging a battery would be just the thing.  Protean pickups have inverters to provide 110 and 220 volt power outlets for electric power in remote locations.  They can also use their battery packs to provide emergency power to a house when the power grid goes down--something millions of folks who went through the Derecho recently would have loved to have, I'll bet!  With the diesel motor charging capacity, such a capability to power a house basically puts a backup generator in every garage and makes it available to move where needed, and it's much more flexible and less noisy and polluting than a gas powered generator.  Throw in pv systems on the house to charge the pickup and if it's like the Volt, most of the time the diesel would not run at all, but it would be there for longer trips and heavy hauling.  Make these affordable, and there would be a lot of demand for it, whatever Red staters might say about global climate change.  It would just be too attractive to resist to many a pickup driving working person, and experiencing the advantages and freedom from fossil fuel it would provide would go a long way to breaking the lock the Kochs, Exxon and their ilk have on these voters.

    America needs a UNION NEWS channel. We (unions) have the money, we have the talent. Don't buy 30 second time slots on corporate media, union leaders; fund your own cable news channel and tell the real story 24/7/365

    by monkeybrainpolitics on Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 03:44:29 AM PDT

  •  poor choices so far (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Buckeye54, bluedust, IreGyre

    Companies could have saved on costs by going green, but instead chose to go looking for cheap, exploitable labor.  The energy revolution may be the best revolution to have right about now.

    Call exploitation and debt slavery whatever you want. How undignified is getting rich off of the work of others!

    by jcrit on Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 03:55:37 AM PDT

  •  Not just battery tech but wieght also (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, 2thanks, jcrit, bluedust

    Historically the gasoline burning steel body "planet killer" was always an "F" grade engineering project. Really, a 4500 lb SUV to transport a 170 lb person to work? We have been destroying our ecosystem to move piles of steel from here to there.

    As part of the green revolution we have to solve the weight problem, we can't stay with the large steel body legacy. Most of the energy lost is in rolling friction and that is directly proportional to the weight of the car.

    There are two opportunities to save weight. One is size of vehicle and the other is material. We need to use both mechanisms. Current best technology is carbon fiber composite construction. The new Boeing 787 uses it to achieve a lower net weight and higher fuel economy. It's more expensive than steel but it lasts a very long time. Can the buying public accept that? We have to. That changes much of our perception of the car as a consumer product. Marketing tastes can be influenced. What this will mean us that the car chassis and body will be very long lived and the parts that wear will be replaceable. You don't have to keep your car for 25 years, but someone else will need to keep using after you have been seduced by the latest models.

  •  After all the climate doom and gloom this diary (0+ / 0-)

    is a note of optimism.  Thank you.  

    I loved the solar powered car link.  That and the first trans-Atlantic solar plane flight give me a measure of hope for the future. May the Green roll on!

  •  I agree with some of this but not all, not even (0+ / 0-)

    most.

    A point I agree with, maybe, is that in 30 years half of all autos will be electric.

    The reason the electric car failed in the 1900s has little do with a conspiracy by Standard Oil. Well, it has a lot to do with it, but not because electric vehicles were somehow superior and had to be 'stopped', not at all. The major oil barons knew they had a better product. Gasoline was hugely energy dense. The electric cars of that era leaked acid, could only run for a few miles or 20 minutes at best and were way more expensive than gasoline powered "Ts" and others similar.

    The facts were that their was eventually zero consumer demand for cluncker battery powered cars once people saw what gasoline powered ones could do.

    Still true to a certain extent today (range anxiety). An electric car today can go 40 or more miles. The big issue is are the expense of the batteries. I'm never going to pay $39,000 for a Volt. Sorry folks, I work for a living.
    Secondly, understand, that any electric vehicle now is powered primarily by coal, then natural gas (depending on where one lives).

    In France, however since it's 80% nuclear electric cars are truly low carbon there.

    But more importantly, or rather as importantly, every EV today is made from oil. Plastics and so on come from oil. batteries come from truly massive amounts of rare earths and are thus highly 'extractive' is it has to be mined.

    Down the road but starting sooner we need to have incentives for people to move into cities from the suburbs to mass transit can really be used.

    David

    Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

    by davidwalters on Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 10:41:33 AM PDT

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