A Tribute to two Distinguished Colleagues And Renewable Energy Pioneers

This will be a relatively short Post but an important one – a personal tribute to two long-time colleagues who definitely qualify as renewable energy pioneers – Drs. Jerry Weingart and Sam Baldwin. I know there are many others who have contributed to our march to a renewable energy future, and I have worked with many of them. I pick these two because they are friends, because of an important and visionary paper that Jerry wrote many years ago that warrants renewed attention, and an important report that Sam organized recently that answers an important question about our energy future. They have both done many other important things as well, but I will leave that for others to document.

I first met Jerry in the 1970’s when he was working at a DOE national laboratory and renewables were first receiving serious government attention. I met Sam early in the 1980’s when he came to Washington, DC as a Congressional Fellow of the American Physical Society. We have been colleagues and friends ever since.

The long and detailed paper that Jerry wrote, ‘The Helios Strategy: An Heretical View of the Potential Role of Solar Energy in the Future of a Small Planet’, and for which he received a Mitchell Prize, can be found at TECHNOLOGICAL FORECASTING AND SOCIAL CHANGE 12, 273-315 (1978). The Abstract is reproduced below:

Over the next hundred years there must be a worldwide transition from reliance on fossil fuels to the use of
some combination of long-term and abundant primary sources for the production of heat, electricity, and
synthetic fuels. The rate at which such options can be developed and employed, as well as the maximum rate at
which they can provide energy at a sustained rate, will place important constraints on the rate and limits to
growth of other human activities. It is generally argued that only the fission option, in the form of the
fast-breeder and high-temperature reactors, can provide the energy required for a livable world, particularly if
this means a world of 10 billion people living at the present energy level of Western Europe. However, a careful
examination indicates that the use of solar energy, through a menu of technological options, can provide the
needs of a world at this scale of energy use, and that this can be accomplished within the constraints of land
availability and requirements for energy, materials, and labor. No scientific breakthroughs are required, although
a number of these would be helpful, but very substantial engineering advances clre required, and the
transition to such a world-wide system would take no less than a century. However, the feasibility of such
large-scale use of solar energy will substantially alter those aspects of the “limits to growth” discussions in
which future growth strategies are constrained by available and acceptable energy alternatives. This paper
outlines a global solar-energy system considered feasible for more than 10 billion people living at 5 kW per

The study that Sam organized and led, The Renewable Electricity Futures Study, was published by NREL in June 2012. I consider it a breakthrough achievement. It is discussed in more detail in my previous blog Post entitled ‘The Promise of Renewable Energy’. It will be referred to for many years as a landmark in our progress toward a future based on renewable energy.