Posted on August 17, 2017 by
Many people are sceptical about how effective alternative energies have been in the last few years. Despite having seen much more investment and attention than they had in the past, renewables still haven’t made any huge steps towards dominating the worldwide energy mix. The simple counter to this statement, is that this absolutely huge overhaul of industry and lifestyle is going to take time. We live in a world where money rules all, even if it means destroying our planet. This means that our journey towards a sustainable energy mix will take time, because it does not have the full support of those that prioritise profit margins. This article will summarise the current situation of the generation landscape and what you can do to be a part of the renewable revolution.
The current situation
At present, 79% of all electricity in the UK is generated by gas, coal and nuclear, all of which using finite resources as their source of power. Although this may sound like a pretty poor state of affairs, around 85% of electricity worldwide is made from non-renewable sources, which is 6% higher than the UK average.
Fossil fuels such as gas and coal are the remains of living organisms that have formed naturally over hundreds of millions of years. They are an extremely potent fuel source that has been providing the world with huge amounts of useable electricity for years; however, we’re getting to the point where their extinction is in sight. It is expected that if we carry on using each fossil fuel at the current rate, the following will happen to the reserves that we currently know about:
- Oil will only last us until 2052
- Gas reserves will run out in 2060
- Coal has the potential to last us another 100 years, but if production is stepped up after oil and gas reserves run out, coal will only last us until 2088
It is possible that new reserves of each fossil fuel will be found, extending our safety net by a few more years; however, the newly found reserves that we are now finding are increasingly smaller in size, meaning we’re only postponing the inevitable. So, what are the alternatives?
Types of renewable energy
Using the natural elements that we have at our disposition, such as water, wind and heat, technology has and is being developed to harvest the energy readily available to us and convert it into useable electricity. This is currently the most promising alternative that we have to fossil fuel generation, and if given enough investment and support, has the potential to completely replace the infrastructure that we have in place for fossil fuel generation. There are many conservative sceptics that don’t particularly believe in the severity of the situation, and thus are not concerned as of yet with the need to advance our renewable technology. However, no matter the current severity of the situation, it will creep up on us sooner rather than later, which means it is better that we have a plan in place for when that moment does arrive. Here are some of the energy types that we currently use in the UK.
Current percentage of the UK energy mix – 1.2%
(source: Selectra )
At any given time, the earth receives around 173,000 terawatts (173 trillion kW) of energy from the sun, which is around 10,000 times more than the entire world uses. It is ridiculous to think that we can harvest anything even close to the full amount of this energy; however, by just converting a tiny portion of its potential, we could power huge cities, if not whole countries. We currently harvest this sunlight with photovoltaic solar cells, which make up the panels you can see on top of roofs and on other purpose built apparatus.
Current percentage of the UK energy mix – 9.5%
The most important renewable energy type in the UK by far, wind energy, is certainly our most promising generation method. Currently making up 9.5% of our entire energy mix, which is exceptionally higher than other alternative methods, wind energy is continuing to grow in output and efficiency, which is providing us with great prospects for future generation. Although wind energy works very well for us in the UK, it is not something that can be transferred to every part of the world with the same effect. Wind is variable, which means that it is totally dependent on the location of your turbine. You’ll also see huge variations in your results at certain times of the day and in certain seasons of the year, which does not suit a large amount of countries worldwide.
Current percentage of the UK energy mix – 1.8%
Hydropower is the conversion of natural water current into useable electricity, usually carried out in a controlled area such as a dam or a high rapid stream. Due to the nature of the water cycle and currents in certain areas of water, hydroelectric is completely sustainable and largely reliable depending on where your plant is placed.
Although hydropower does not contribute so largely to the UK energy mix, it is extremely effective in certain countries around the world. Countries such as the United States, Canada and China are huge investors in hydropower, showing huge potential for future generation. That said, the UK still has a pretty competent infrastructure already in place, seeing huge capacity power stations such as Dinorwig in Gwynedd, Wales. This power plant alone, using solely hydroelectric generation, has a potential output of 1.8 gigawatts, which would have the potential to power over 2,540,000 homes.
100% renewable tariffs
So, what can you do to help support renewable generation? Aside from actually generating your own electricity through solar panels and other home generation apparatus, through the majority of energy suppliers you can now get 100% green tariffs that will completely support the generation of sustainable electricity. Despite what advertisements may seem to convey, 100% renewable electricity tariffs do not physically change the supply of your electricity. Everyone in your neighbourhood (and region, in fact) uses the same distribution network that receives the same electricity mix from a mixture of sources. What you are doing when agreeing to a green tariff is removing your usage amount from fossil fuel generation demand. If you use 3,100 kWh of electricity in a year, for example, this means that this usage amount will be generated through sustainable sources, rather than fossil fuels, but you will not directly receive it in your home.