Renewable energy powering the UK

Winter’s coming, gas and electric heating is fired up in almost every home across the country and the investors in solar panels and natural solutions to energy go back to looking at their fossil fuel powered energy bills, right? Wrong!

The first bio-mass renewable energy plant in the UK, Sleaford Renewable Energy Plant, is now officially open in Lincolnshire and is producing energy 24 hour a day, 365 days a year.

According to the plant’s November 2014 briefing, “It generates enough electricity to power 65,000 homes using sustainable fuel sources, saving 240 000 tonnes of CO2 per annum thus helping the UK achieve its renewable energy targets whilst bolstering the nation’s energy security.”

It may be a comparatively small saving, but when you consider that it is funded by private investment and using a by-product of local agriculture that would otherwise go to waste, it has to be considered a huge step forward in finding a long term solution to a looming energy shortage as fuel sources run shorter and less affordable.

Its success is such that Mike Harrison, a spokesman for the plant, said the owners Glennmont Partners, formerly BNP Paribas’s Clean Energy Partners, were taking steps to build another bio-mass plant near Brigg in North Lincolnshire.

Mike Harrison said the plant is “the first of its kind in the UK” but that it was “not new technology” and that “Sweden uses biomass fuel”, so it’s good to see that we’re catching up in some respects.

It’s not an all-round fix, of course. Mike said, “When you look at a bio-plant you need to be in the middle of the fuel source so Lincolnshire was the obvious choice.”

So parts of rural Britain can benefit, and even offset the cities but of course the fuel sources in the cities, particularly the likes of the capital, are almost non-existent.

Wind energy

So if we can power the countryside by burning straw, a product that is a side effect of agriculture, what can we power the rest of the country on?

RenewableUKsay “A single 2.5MW wind turbine can generate enough electricity to meet the annual needs of over 1,400 households, make 230 million cups of tea, or run the average computer for well over 2,000 years.”

Impressive! Especially as the UK is considered one of the best places in Europe, and one of the best in the world, to harness wind power.

There’s always been a bit of a downer on these structures, mostly down to their appearance. Are they really any uglier than an electricity pylon, an old style concrete power plant or a windmill though? Maybe it’s time to say they look better than heavily polluted sky.

Tackling the problem

It was reported earlier this year that Scotland’s renewable energy allegedly sustains the whole of the UK’s use of electricity. In fact it was one of the arguments to keep the Union. So if we can harness that kind of power in the north along with other solutions in the fens and along the coasts, why do we need fossil fuel and nuclear energy at all?

Well, unfortunately, a lot of it is out of control of the general public. It may seem a lost cause and slightly patronising to think about how much water you’re putting in the kettle or turning TV’s off standby at night to save energy, whilst the government are signing paper to allow construction of nuclear submarines and housing estates, but collectively we can do our bit, and it’s to our benefit to do so.

The Energy Saving Trust have given some great advice on how to start at home, along with a few reasons to do so. Such as how you will be:

  • Making use of secure, local resources;
  • Reducing your dependence on non-renewable energy;
  • Helping to reduce the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases;
  • Creating new jobs in renewable energy industries;
  • Saving and even earning money.

They’ve even got some great advice on the fitting of solar panels, and the benefits and returns you might be able to expect. Okay you have to be careful that you’re not buying yesterday’s technology, and it relies on having a certain amount of disposable income and your own home. Also, you are sort of relying on good weather… that said they feed off light and heat, so you don’t literally need the sun out but the nicer it is, the faster the meter will spin.

That said, at current prices and level of return, they will literally pay for themselves after around ten years – not accounting for the saving on your current bills. Certainly worth considering for any homeowner, and worth asking your landlord, particularly if you’re in a council property, as it’s as much to their benefit as it is yours.

Small changes, big difference

If you’re not in a position to make that kind of commitment, but still want to do your part, the government has previously released an exhaustive document reporting the effect that we can have by making small differences in our day-to-day lives. It’s not the most inspiring and colourful document, but a quick look at page 15 in the ‘behaviours’ column really shows the amazing number of things that are offered as making a difference, like “wear a thick jumper at home in the heated season” for example. Crazy to think that things like this can be seen as making such a difference, but it certainly makes sense and if everyone kept these sorts of things in the back of their mind, they will cumulatively have an effect.

It just goes to show though that whatever your interest or reasons for looking into renewable energy sources, whether it’s financial or out of concern of the effects of global warming on the planet, there are plenty of options to look at.

If you want to invest thousands in your home, you will recoup them and eventually gain money by doing so, but equally if you want to make small changes to your own lifestyle, there’s plenty of advice and support out there to help get you started. Regardless of what many will have you believe, the governments in the western world, charities and many of the larger companies (whether out of corporate responsibility, pressure from activists or genuine concern), even Big Oil are looking at ways to help and offering incentives and solutions to the global warming problem and ways to support the public in their quest to do their part.

Let’s fight the problem between us and find a way to limit our effect instead of pointing fingers and expecting Big Oil and the governments to find a quick fix, surely that’s the way forward?

by Tom McBeth (December 2014)

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