The Incredible Power of Solar

Sometimes we get caught up in the process of transforming America's energy economy and lose sight of what it would really mean to effectively harness the power of renewable resources. Here's a great reminder:

Every hour, the sun provides the earth with as much energy as all of human civilization uses in an entire year. At just 10 percent efficiency -- that is, if only 10 percent of that solar energy was converted to electricity -- a 100-miles-square area of land could produce enough electricity to power the entire United States.

That's from a Reuters article about Walmart, which recently announced it's adding thin-film solar panels to another two-dozen stores in Arizona and California. "Yet," the article points out, "a century after Albert Einstein explained the photoelectric effect, solar technology remains a trivial player in global energy."

Companies like Walmart and Kohl's are leading the charge for commercial solar -- and it makes good sense. Solyndra, a leading manufacturer of commercial solar products, likes to use this talking point: There are approximately 11,000 square kilometers of commercial rooftop space in the world available for solar panels. If you covered all of those rooftops, we could generate approximately 512 gigawatts of electricity -- enough to replace 1,000 coal-fired electric plants.

Now there's something to think about.