Where Does Our Energy Come From?
In today's world, where many of us are increasingly environmentally and politically conscious, knowing where our energy comes from is important. In this article, we'll examine the different ways the UK generates or imports energy, from the industrial revolution to new, emerging technologies.
The Coal Era
For a long period, Britain relied completely on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas to produce its energy. From the 18th century, these sources powered the industrial revolution and drove the country's development from the first railways to the mills and factories in England’s growing cities.
Coal mines and coal-burning power plants were the backbone of the UK's energy industry. It was once the dominant player but over the years, its use has been scaled back dramatically due to its impact on air quality and inefficiency as an energy source. Today, coal accounts for a tiny fraction of the energy mix.
The Move to Gas
As coal usage waned, natural gas was favoured. It produces fewer emissions than coal when burned, making it comparably cleaner. Natural gas power plants are typically run more efficiently and are flexible enough to quickly respond to changes in energy demand. While natural gas has been seen as the best of a bad bunch by the Government, the long term plan is for the UK market to gradually transition away from it.
Offshore and OPEC Oil
For a long time, natural oil has played a significant role in the UK's energy mix. While it was never used for electricity generation as extensively as coal and gas, oil has been vital for transport, heating and industry.
The UK's North Sea oil reserves are still seen as a valuable domestic source, contributing to energy independence. Much like its fellow fossil fuels, the environmental impact of oil use have prompted the reconsideration of its role. As well as the carbon emissions from oil combustion being damaging to the climate, high-profile oil spills have had disastrous effects for our sealife. Geopolitical factors are at play too, with a share of the UK’s oil being imported from OPEC nations.
Harnessing Nuclear Power
In the UK’s evolving energy landscape, nuclear power has emerged as a key player. Nuclear power plants, like the Hinkley and Heysham sites, harness the energy released during the process of splitting atoms. This is called ‘nuclear fission’.
Nuclear power offers a stable and reliable source of electricity generation, with plants able to operate continuously for long periods of time. One of the clear advantages is minimal greenhouse gas emissions, which helps the Government get closer to their end goal of net zero.
Nuclear is not without controversy however. Concerns over safety, waste disposal and potential accidents have led to debates over development. The UK has been exploring the options for new nuclear reactors in recent years, but these plans come with many challenges.
Investment in Offshore Wind
In the past couple of decades, the UK has funnelled significant investment into the development of the world’s biggest and most advanced offshore wind farms. This has made the country one of the global leaders in renewable energy. These turbines benefit from strong, consistent winds, that generate massive amounts of electricity.
As well as creating jobs and benefitting coastal towns, offshore wind significantly contributes to the UK's carbon reduction goals by replacing fossil fuels. As the UK battles against climate change, this source is positioned as a vital weapon in the arsenal.
Solar, Hydro and Biomass Ventures
Solar Installations on urban rooftops, in open fields and even platforms floating on water have become more commonplace across the UK. This technology converts sunlight directly into electricity as a clean and renewable energy source. Government incentives and policies have played a crucial role in promoting solar power adoption, enabling homeowners and businesses to generate their own electricity and ease the burden on the national grid.
Although the UK's hydropower generation is limited compared to other renewable sources, small-scale hydroelectric projects, like Dinorwig in North Wales, harness the energy of flowing water. This process often utilises rivers, streams and waterfalls but tidal power is another option. This is generally a clean energy mix and a positive contributor to the overall energy mix.
Biomass energy is generated by converting organic matter such as wood and agricultural waste into usable energy. Biomass power plants kill two birds with one stone by generating electricity and destroying waste at the same time. While biomass does offer many benefits, there are some concerns its impact on ecosystems that have prompted careful evaluation from authorities.
What Does the Future Look Like?
The transition to a more sustainable and diversified energy mix is not without its challenges. As the Government ambitiously targets to reduce emissions to the point of a net zero society, there are some key considerations to make.
The nature of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power, can lead to irregularity in energy supply. Balancing variability with energy demand will require more organised grid management and energy storage solutions. Breakthroughs in battery technology and other storage methods can enhance the reliability and stability of the grid. The integration of smart grid technologies allows for real-time monitoring and management of energy distribution.
Emerging technologies like tidal energy, which harnesses the power of the sea, and geothermal energy, which is derived from heat below the Earth’s surface,are promising avenues for further diversifying the UK's energy mix. New research will determine the potential for scaling their development. Collaboration with other countries, sharing best practices, and leveraging the expertise of others can surely accelerate progress towards common climate goals.
It’s crucial to remember that energy shifts impact communities dependent on traditional energy sectors. Many people in the UK suffered from job losses and the economic effects of the mass closure of coal mines in the latter half of the 20th century. Job creation, reskilling and investment in affected regions are essential to a successful transition.
How Can I Save Money on Energy Bills?
With so much concern over the volatility of energy costs, consumers are looking for ways to save money on their bills more than ever. At UKPower, we can help you compare gas and electricity suppliers to find the cheapest energy prices, switch to a better deal and cut the cost of your energy bills.
This is a Test.
Click here to run an energy price comparison, and see if you could be paying less for your gas and electricity.