Renewable energy: Electric dreams

By Helen Knight Read all the articles in our special issue on renewable energy: Renewable energy: Will the lights stay on? Renewable energy: Anywhere the wind blows Renewable energy: The tide is turning Renewable energy: Power beneath our feet Renewable energy: Dreams become reality Saving up for a windless day Edison’s revenge: The return of direct current Catching the waves Sunny side up: New forms of solar power Power plants: Can we harness plant waste? SMOKESTACKS, cooling towers, reactor domes and gas installations are defining features of our modern landscape. Each is a key component in electricity generation, but perhaps not for much longer. Sprinkled over every continent are the totems of a new era of power: wind turbines and solar energy collectors. So far they are few and far between, but that’s about to change. Plans for huge solar power plants have been drawn up in the US, Spain and Portugal, and it seems barely a month goes by without a new wind farm springing up. In the past decade, the amount of electricity generated from renewables worldwide almost doubled, according to the International Energy Agency, and by 2006 they accounted for 2.3 per cent of the 19 million gigawatt-hours of electrical energy the world produced. This is set to rise even further in the next few years. In January,
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