The sun pumps out more energy in one hour--4.3 x 1020 Joules of it hit the Earth--than all of the energy consumed by all of human endeavor in one year--4.1 x 1020 in 2001. That energy is largely wasted despite falling on some of the most efficient chemical converters of light energy--photosynthetic plants. Green plants and, more importantly, green algae and plankton only store up 0.5 percent of the sun's bounty, according to Steven Chu, the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And the U.S. isn't helping. "We haven't even stepped up to the plate to where we should be," he said recently, noting Japan and Europe's long head start in research.
I have a feeling that someday our descendants will look back and wonder why we were so eager to make fossil fuels-what is essentially the trapped sunlight from millions of years ago-the basis of all our economy and industry, when every day more sunshine falls on us than we could possibly ever use (Dyson spheres notwithstanding.)