Just an idea of what lies ahead if you think we can use huge fields of photovoltaic cells to cut consumption of fossil fuels. From a Reuters story:
SERPA, Portugal (Reuters) - One of the world's largest solar energy plants, covering the hills of a valley dotted with olive groves in southern Portugal, started delivering electricity to about 8,000 homes on Wednesday.Those numbers look a little optimistic but even so: According to the DOE their electric generating capacity in 2002 was 10.4 gigawatts. So you'd need ten of these 11 megawatt solar plants to get up to a whopping 1% energy from solar. And that's in "one of Europe's sunniest spots".
The solar panels, which are raised around 2 meters off the ground, cover an area of 60 hectares (150 acres) and produce 11 megawatts of electricity in one of Europe's sunniest spots -- Portugal's poor agricultural Alentejo region.
Never mind that these numbers have been gussied up. Dividing those 11 megawatts between the 8000 homes, each household gets 1,300 watts. That will power one, fairly small, room air conditioner. Heck, the female types use that much to blow-dry their hair. Sure, I know that in Algortopia the women will all dry their hair by cracking the whip and making the buggy go faster, but still, we want our coffee makers to perk, right?
I'm not against renewables. Hydro power generates 20% of Portugal's electrical energy. (and in 2001, a wet year, it generated 30%) So look at the numbers: this is a state of the art project in one of the sunniest places anywhere, and it still is a half a drop in the bucket. Hydro and new-ku-lar have hugely more potential and they don't require armies of Portuguese with squeegees (an image featured in most of my nightmares) to keep the bird crap off a sea of panels.