The UK is turning green! Greenhouse gas emissions are falling and more renewable energy sources are being used than ever before. For the first time in history, 2017 marked the year where green energy power sources out-produced all eight nuclear power stations combined in the UK.
This is a monumental achievement in Britain’s history and sets the bar for the rest of Europe and the world. So, does this spell the end for nuclear power?
First off, what can be considered renewable energy resources?
Renewable energy is simply electricity generated from power sources that are not depleted when utilized. These include wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass sources. Wind and hydropower generate electricity by rotating turbines that are kept in motion by air and water currents. Solar and geothermal power sources operate natural heat sources (i.e. the sun, and the earth’s natural heat), and biomass energy utilizes replenishable organic material from plants and animals to release stored chemical energy by either burning directly or converting to liquid biofuels.
The main difference between traditional and renewable energy sources is whether there is a finite amount of source material available or an infinite amount. Fossil fuels, for example, are a non-renewable energy source since the earth only has so much. Basically, there is only so much oil to be pumped. Coal is another example of a finite resource as when one piece of coal is burned, it’s gone forever. Renewable resources like wind and solar power have no limit to the amount of times they can be used to generate power, and as an added bonus, produce zero greenhouse gas emissions. As long as the sun rises and the currents of the air and sea flow, there is an unlimited amount of energy that can be harnessed with little ill effects.
How is the UK Going Green?
Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions overall dropped by 3% last year continuing an encouraging trend since 2004, with energy production sectors reporting 8% drops in CO2 emissions as coal use declines in favor of renewable energy resources. Air pollutants from the transportation sector and medium-large transport companies stayed steady, however, which suggests the adoption of electric vehicles and smaller-scale renewables still has a lot of room to grow.
A UK Power study states, “…for the first time ever, the UK’s network of wind farms and solar panels generated more energy than the combined efforts of the UK’s eight nuclear power stations.” Green Party leader Caroline Lucas is suggesting that “this could be the beginning of the end for nuclear power.”
But declaring a death sentence for nuclear power could be a little premature.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reports “…renewables generated 18.33 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy to nuclear’s 16.69TWh in 2017…”, but new solar and hydropower installations, optimal wind conditions, and low nuclear power output towards the end of last year all played a large part in renewable energy generation edging out nuclear.
UK Power continues, “Gas also saw a slight drop in its share of generation but is still far and away the UK’s number one source of electricity production at 36.12 TWh.”
Greenpeace commented on the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures by stating that “…the [UK] government should capitalise on its lead in renewables” and to “stop wasting time and money propping up nuclear power” – which references to the Conservative-backed project developments like Hinckley Point C and increasing small module reactors (SMRs) funding, while government subsidies end for onshore wind farms.
How can I contribute to the Green Energy movement?
Switching to renewable energy sources will benefit everyone in the long run. Despite cheaper and more efficient green energy equipment becoming increasingly available – the problem right now is the initial cost of investment to go green on an individual consumer level. The cost varies greatly depending on whether you want to generate your own electricity at home, or if prefer to sign up for a green energy tariff program.
Solar panel installation costs vary and often depend upon both the size and output of the panels themselves and the total amount of electricity you are looking to generate. The average household will find that a 3.5kWp system will be more than enough, which will cost around £6,500 to install, but smaller systems are available starting around £2,500, while larger systems can cost well over £15,000.
Some power companies do have free solar panel installation programs, however, so it’s always worth researching before you agree to pay the whole install amount.
Once your solar pv system is installed, depending on its size, expect a reduction of 50% or more off your annual power bills. Plus, you could even come out ahead by selling any unused power back to National Grid through a feed-in tariff plan that could earn you as much as 4.5p per kWh cash back.
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Green energy in the UK is booming and is expected to only increase in the years to come, so take advantage of the government subsidies while they last! Even if investing in renewable energy isn’t an option for you, the UK as a whole is becoming more and more green, which will help all of us in the long run.