The Solar Cat Book
by Jim Augustyn with illustrations by Hildy Paige Burns
Conceived in 1978, written and published in 1979, & later revised in 2004 as The Return of The Solar Cat Book.
Oddly enough, this book has always been hard for me to describe. Was it a children's book? Was it for scientists? Engineers? Environmentalists? Solar professionals or advocats? I only know I wrote it for my colleagues at the time.
Only recently, as a fervent solar advocate fighting the latest resurgence of opposition to solar energy development put it: "(it is) perhaps the best expression of the spirit driving the small but growing ranks of solar energy enthusiasts of the mid to late 1970's". That felt right to me. I wrote this book out of my nearly unrestrained enthusiasm for development of solar energy at that time.
Of course it also expresses my own sensibilities and sense of humor. It's often hopelessly silly, yet at times serious, always polite, mostly respectful - all things my mother taught me. That's about all I can say "About" this book.
But wait, wait! There's more!
I was really fortunate to discover the small but rapidly growing ranks of solar energy enthusiasts at that time who had gravitated toward American chapter of the world's premier solar energy organization, the International Solar Energy Society. ISES as it is commonly known, was itself started in the mid 1950's by scientists of the WWII "Manhattan Project" which built the first atomic bomb. Those scientists knew, as their successors and my colleagues of the 1970's knew, that solar energy was ultimately the only large enough, truly long term, and ultimately sustainable energy source available to human civilization. Delivered for free, and pretty well evenly distributed around the world. And it is the energy source that gave rise to life on earth! Now that's really it!
- Jim Augustyn, September 2023
The Origin Story
In the beginning . . .
The idea of the Solar Cat first entered Jim Augustyn's mind in the early 1970's. He was a young engineer working at a struggling solar R&D start-up then tasked with writing writing two simple solar primers for Sunset Magazine and the California Concrete Masonry Institute.
He often walked home for lunch, observing his sweet gray cat Parsley basking on a sunny windowsill. One day, on his walk back to work, he again noticed Parsley on his windowsill, in the sunshine as usual, when it suddenly dawned on him that Parsley was really catching, storing, and using solar energy in the normal course of his life - concepts Jim was then trying to convey in his writing tasks! Before he got back to his office, he had mapped out all the striking similarities in the way Parsley behaved, and the way people were then trying to perfect the use of solar energy in their own lives. And it grew from there.
The original Solar Cat Book was published in the fall of 1979 by Ten Speed Press, in Berkeley, California. It was written in the spring and summer of that year - a huge hit within the fledgling solar community selling over 15,000 copies in advance of first printing. It was also translated and printed in Japanese, as evidently many Japanese people like cats maybe because they can be so cute. Nearly 25 years later, with human interest in solar energy again on the rise, Jim with the design help of his good friend Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen, fixed up that original version a bit and published The Return of the Solar Cat Book, - this time in color.
Since that second release human interest and use of solar has grown dramatically - exponentially, as some might say, but this time with steadily increasing exponents! Growth not quite as far and fast as cats know it must, but at least people seem to be moving in the right direction!
Jim first learned about solar energy as a boy working on his suntan in the hot summer sun on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Indiana Sand Dunes.
He received his B.S. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in nearby Chicago. His first job was designing nuclear power plant mechanical and safety systems for Bechtel Power Corporation, in San Francisco. In the mid-1970's he began his career in solar energy research and development. He's still doing that.
As a consultant and researcher in solar energy research and development, Jim eventually focused on solar radiation measurement - an often dismissed specialty but which nonetheless is the foundation upon which our solar future rests. He also helped design and build solar thermal and electric systems, assisted in the energy design of buildings, and development of large scale photovoltaic power plants. His clients have included U.S. and foreign national laboratories, governments, electric utilities, solar power plant developers, industrial and commercial businesses at all scales, as well as the occasional regular person. Of course his most prestigious work is as humanity's lead Emissary to the International Solar Cat Society.
Jim lives in Berkeley California with his wife, Elizabeth, and a continuing series of successors to Parsley and Mouse.