In The New York Times today, Al Gore lays out his plan to have the United States get "100 percent of [its] electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years"—a much more ambitious goal than anyone else has proposed to date. (By comparison, here's a detailed blueprint from Google showing how we could conceivably reduce the amount of electricity we get from fossil fuels 88 percent by 2030, while saving money in the process.) Gore's plan seems to rely heavily on building solar thermal plants in the Southwest—a promising idea we've discussed before—wind farms in the Midwest, and a behemoth $400 billion national smart grid to bring the power to our homes. (He's agnostic on carbon sequestration for coal plants—sure, bring it, if it works...)
But is this realistic? It certainly won't be cheap. Joe Romm had a sympathetic critique of this plan when Gore first announced it in July, suggesting that, although global warming is an urgent problem, we probably don't need to move quite as blindingly fast as Gore's demanding—it's worth waiting for solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies to mature a bit before going full speed ahead on deployment, and there's likely no need to shut down the country's combined-cycle natural gas turbines, which provide useful low-emission baseload power. Relatedly, here's a chart-and-graph-filled post by Jerome a Paris at The Oil Drum detailing how we'd get somewhat close to Gore's vision in the next few decades.
It'd be reasonable, I think, to read Gore's op-ed more as an attempt to broaden the discussion of what's possible in building a clean-energy economy, rather than presenting a specific plan of action. Indeed, in TNR's Obama "power list" this week, we speculated that Gore probably wouldn't end up with a climate-related role in Obama's cabinet, but would instead act as the outside conscience of the administration—always imploring the government to do more, and faster, while applying pressure if Obama edges away from his global-warming promises. (Gore's group, Repower America, is already running TV ads urging the new president on.) Granted, it's always pointless to speculate too feverishly about cabinet appointments—we'll know when we know—but this op-ed seems to hint that that's the course Gore's pursuing.