"The prairie is fairly alive with them." So reported the Kansas City Star of the thousands of windmills that dotted Kansas. Wind power had become the key to success on the Great Plains. That was in the 1800s.
Clean energy is not exactly new. That's the argument of Alexis Madrigal in his book Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. Americans were experimenting with solar power as early as 1841, and wind power was a key to western expansion in the late 1800s.
Madrigal's main aim in writing his history is to show the "uncertainties and triumphs of innovation, the mysterious process by which ideas are made into product." Such a history is much needed, since the average American knows little about our energy history -- and that lack of knowledge results in many assuming that we've been using oil and coal simply because they were the best products at the time. Madrigal reminds us that "random events have major impacts [on energy development] and people take bad paths." By studying the mistakes of the past, we can better forge a clean-energy future.
Although most of his book is focused on this fascinating "unknown" history, Madrigal ends his story by looking at one of the most important debates in the environmental movement today: solar development in the Mojave.
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