The UK faces a series
of choices about energy. We all require energy to live and our dependence on it
cannot be understated. But how we supply energy and how we use it in the future
needs to change – we need power that is secure, affordable and more than ever
we need it to be sustainable.
At the moment,
most of the UK’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, which have
been recently criticised for being polluting and having limited quantities. In the UK, we currently utilise mainly
natural gas (42% in 2016) and coal (9% in 2016). A very small amount is
produced from other fuels (3.1% in 2016), principally through Oil – which,
whilst in high demand in certain countries is not utilised to a particularly
great extent in the United Kingdom, due to fluctuating import costs and usage
availability. However, the volume of electricity generated
by coal and gas-fired power stations alters each year, with some switching
between the two depending on fuel prices.
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Also, it is worth
mentioning that coal production and energy generation has severely reduced in the
UK within the last few years, with currently only eight power stations open –
and of those two are expected to close in 2018, one to reduce, two to convert
to biomass (where organic material is used as a fuel for the generation of
electricity), whilst only the other 4 will remain open for the foreseeable
future. In addition to this, 21% of our electricity
comes from nuclear reactors (usually in which uranium atoms are split up to
produce heat using a process known as fission.) The UK’s nuclear power stations
will close gradually over the next decade or so, with all but one expected to
stop running by 2025. Several companies have plans to build a new generation of
reactors, the first of which could be running by 2018. EDF energy is pioneering this trend and has
committed to opening three new nuclear power stations in the next few years,
including the highly debated Hinkley Point C power station.
However, in the
last few years, renewable technologies that use
natural energy to make electricity have been used to a greater extent in the UK,
up from under 5% in 1990. Fuel sources
include wind, wave, marine, hydro, biomass and solar. It made up 24.5% of
electricity generated in 2016 – which will rise as the UK aims to meet its EU
target of generating 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Of this figure, 45% is generated
through wind energy, both offshore and inland, 36% through bioenergy, 18%
through Hydroelectric energy (a large of this from Wales) and 1.5% through
solar (photovoltaic) / wave or tidal energy.
previously mentioned, non-renewable energy sources, whilst their share is decreasing,
still provide a majority of energy to the UK.
Non-renewables are not viewed positively as they will eventually run out
(the world’s supplies are being depleted as we are using them faster than they
are restored), that they are often polluting (be it through the complicated
extraction process or direct pollution as a result of their burning to produce
energy) and that the cost, ability and availability to use them fluctuates to a
great extent. However, they are cheap,
easy to set up and generate a consistent supply of energy. Renewables, however, do not generate a
consistent supply and are very dependent on environmental conditions and some methods
are difficult to set up – although they are not directly polluting, and will
not run out over time.
can be seen, there are many factors and advantages / disadvantages of both,
which is taken into consideration whenever changes are made to legislation, the
general consensus is that renewable usage is increasing, and vice versa for
non-renewables, and once we can develop ideal ways of storing electricity –
this change will only increase.