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Energy: Renewable energy sources: a quick comparison
Renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind, or river currents to generate electricity are now making major contributions to the domestic and business energy market and are set to grow drastically over the coming years.
For customers, this means two things. Firstly, that their gas and electricity will increasingly come from renewable power sources, and whilst this won’t have any impact on supply, it may have a knock-on billing effect. And secondly, increased opportunity to self-generate energy and take advantage of related subsidies, by installing solar panels for example.
Power generated by
Scale of UK operation
Estimated cost (pence/kWh)
250,000 solar projects
1.8% of energy market
362 wind farms, over 4000 turbines
8.3 on land
16.9 off shore
£50 million research investment
21% of energy market
World’s largest wave farm
Plant and animal waste
Accounts for 12% of UK renewable energy
Pros and cons of various renewable energy sources
Obviously, any use of an energy supply that is environmentally friendly and eases the strain on current natural resources is a positive step. Let’s just take a minute to compare these renewable energy sources:
- Solar. Electricity is generated through solar panels harvesting the sun’s energy. Whilst this is an increasingly popular source in sunny climates, the UK has a surprisingly large potential to use this as power can be generated on a cloudy day, not only in direct sunlight. Many homes and businesses are taking advantage of subsidised solar panel installations to generate some of their own electricity. This not only produces a significant reduction in office utility bills, but generates an income by selling the surplus energy back to the national grid. Companies with large premises can really utilise this method to save on their business electricity bills.
- Hydroelectric and tidal power converts the movement of water in rivers and the sea by building dams and forcing water through to power a turbine. This is perfect for an island such as the UK and can generate a large amount of electricity, although construction is costly, unsightly and can impede sewage flows.
- Wind. The UK wind power industry is rapidly growing and is currently the world’s eighth largest producer, mainly due to large offshore wind farms. The potential for generating electricity is huge and economically competitive, however, sites to build unsightly wind farms are difficult to find and often face local opposition. The answer may be to build turbines at sea, where conditions are perfect, but this is extremely expensive.
- Geothermal energy uses the internal heat generated by the Earth itself (in the form of steam) to produce electricity and heating. Being produced in areas of volcanic activity makes this a potentially dangerous and expensive operation, although the supply is limitless.
- Nuclear power remains controversial due to the risks involved, but as technology improves, this is an increasingly safe, reliable and economically viable way to generate power.
- Biomass energy is created by burning decaying organic material such as oilseed rape. It is cheap and easy to generate, although adds to pollution levels.