Renewable Energy for the UK
Research into renewable energy for the UK has been spurred on by the drive to reduce dependence on limited supplies of fossil fuels and the requirement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.†
The ancient Greeks were the first to harness the power of flowing water, but it was in the late nineteenth century that water was first used to generate electricity in the UK. There are many large-scale hydroelectric projects in the UK, particularly in the Scottish Highlands. Hydroelectric power currently provides about 1.3% of the UKís electricity, but the potential for further large-scale projects is very limited. Small-scale installations involving running water from rivers, however, show great promise for supplying local needs; the technology is straightforward and low maintenance, has little environmental impact and can be very cost effective.
Windmills have exploited wind power for centuries, but using wind-powered turbines to generate electricity is a relatively recent development. Improvements in efficiency combined with Britainís exposed location on the North Atlantic make this an attractive option. Nevertheless, the supply is erratic and margins are tight. Large wind farms often meet with opposition on aesthetic grounds, but recent major investment in offshore wind farms has made this the fastest growing source of renewable energy for the UK. Many smaller projects have been introduced, with public buildings and households installing wind turbines to partly meet their energy needs.
Solar energy generation was made possible by the invention of the photovoltaic cell, which converts sunlight into electricity. Mass produced solar panels are now readily available. Although solar power contributes relatively little to the UKís electricity production, householders are being encouraged to install solar panels to generate their own electricity, making this a major growth area.
Like fossil fuels, biomass is combustible organic material which provides heat to generate electricity. It is, however, a renewable resource, consisting of agricultural waste or purpose-grown crops. The method is considered carbon neutral: although it produces carbon dioxide, the plants remove it from the atmosphere as they are growing.
Wave and Tidal Energy
The power of waves and tides has yet to be fully exploited in the UK, but the potential is enormous. New technologies are being developed and successful prototypes have been produced. Although wave and tidal energy does not contribute significantly to the UKís electricity production at present, with proper investment it is an area that can be expected to grow in the coming years.
The percentage of the UKís electricity generated from renewable resources has risen from under 2% in 1990 to 6.8% in 2010. To meet the 15% target, renewable energy for the UK may in future centre on offshore wind farms and investment in wave and tidal energy, combined with small hydroelectric, wind and solar projects at community and household level.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colin McDonald writes on behalf of Haven Power