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> Renewable Energy - What's Available?
There are several different forms of renewable energy that consumers can use today. Many
of the big power companies will provide this, or already do.
In my opinion, the Government believes consumers will take up renewable energy on their
own backs since the investment into advertising and providing this source has been very
slim. The only way that the Government will become aware that we want a source that does
not harm our home, is when they read the figures! For electricity from a renewable source,
the Government has set limits of 5% by 2005, and 10% by 2010. If these figures are exceeded
much earlier then times will change.
The one factor that has been the stumbling block for renewable energy is the cost. Up til
now, this energy source was costed more than the cheaper fossil fuels but with the
initiative by npower, Unit-e and Powergen, the price of renewable energy has dropped so that it is
in direct comparison with their environmentally non-friendly competitors.
Although countries in Northern Europe such as Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom are
mainly covered in cloud, solar energy can still be used as the rays still permeate the
cloud cover. Buildings can be designed to absorb and retain heat from the sun which will
save on heating costs. There may be many benefits for solar energy in heating water and
suppling electricity, as seen on Channel 4's Big Brother during the summer of 2001, but the
cost of the initial setup is the drawback. Passive solar techniques are used in many
buildings where the building is suitably located to catch as much of the solar energy as
possible - think how warm it is in a south-facing house? Solar panels mounted on the
building will absorb the solar energy which is converted to electricity and used to heat
water and supply electricity for other needs.
Hydro-electric power is taken from the force of rushing water which is used to drive
turbines which provides electricity. A number of power companies in the UK supply
renewable energy in the form of hydro-electric power. But there are two issues with this.
There are no plans to upgrade or build new supplies and secondly, the environmental impact
that is caused by these stations is immense. Wildlife, birds and fish are disrupted in
their habitats but if the concept of renewable energy is to help the environment, then
surely this is not it.
There were plans to build a dam in Turkey which will supply power to many homes. A great
idea but it was at the expense of local villages and people, and was definitely not
the right way to go about it. Thankfully this project has been put on hold. Although in
China, the Government is flooding an area so large that several villages will have to
be relocated. The cost to the wildlife cannot be estimated - such a sad loss (again) at
the expense of human endeavour!
With over 2/3 of the Earth covered by water, it would seem natural to harness the power
of the sea. Man may have tried for years but maybe we should work with the sea instead
of trying to tame it. Off-shore and shoreline turbines can be constructed which will
convert the kinetic motion of the waves into usable electricity. Although it depends on
their positioning and location, it is said the United Kingdom could be supplied with
electricity for a whole year using these offshore devices as the waters around these
islands are ideal.
Wind power has been used for years by the windmills of farmers to grind wheat and corn
and to pump water.Technology has advanced that allows us to use wind power to generate
electricity through wind farms, whether offshore or located throughout the countryside.
In many European countries, farmers are encouraged to supplement their income by installing
wind turbines and selling the electricity to the power companies. Wind power can be used
in poorer countries to pump water, drive diesel engines and to store electricity.
This is far the best and most renewable energy option in the UK as it has the largest
resource in Europe.
Biofuel energy is produced from domestic, agriculture and industrial waste material. Each
year, the UK produces around 250 million tonnes of waste where solid wastes are either
burnt or buried in landfills and fluid waste is dumped at sea. Estimates for the equivalent of this waste has been put at 21 million tonnes of coal. Domestic waste, at 25 million tonnes a year can be burnt to produce heat and electricity. Around 95 percent of domestic waste is buried but this can be used in incinerators. In our opinion, this option will contribute to the global warming factors and release gases into the air so therefore, it is not a recommended option.
This section concerns the 'other' Bio-Fuels. There are alcohol and other chemicals which
are extracted from woody sustainable plants that offer many benefits. When used as fuel
for cars, as in Brazil, it releases fewer environmentally-unfriendly emissions than
fossil fuels. The plants can be grown locally so removes the dependence on foreign oil. With the UK adding around 5% biofuel to road vehicle fuel, the majority of this comes from sugar cane from Brazil. The EU has stated that this percentage must increase to 10% by 2020.
Geothermal power is the energy produced from heated rocks. It is still a relatively new
form of energy. The Earth's crust contains layers of hot dry rock and streams of superheated
water. Two boreholes are drilled several kilometres deep and high pressure water is pumped
down. As the heat is released, it converts the water into steam which is used to power
turbines. In Iceland and New Zealand, geysers have been used to provide central and water
heating. In the UK, research is still continuing.
Images are copyright their respective owners and the viewpoints of this website are
in no defamatory towards the subject of the image.
Solar Energy by Mark Naughton
Hydro-Electric, Wave Energy, Wind Power and Bio-Fuels from www.freefoto.com by Ian Britton
Geothermal courtesy U.S. Geological Survey; photo by S. R. Brantley, 1983
Document last updated on Tuesday 30 August 2011
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