There are many different types of renewable energy available today some of which receive little or no mass media coverage. We therefore thought it would be interesting to take a look at the different types of renewable energy and what they have to offer.
Solar power is perhaps the best known of the renewable energy sources and the technology associated with converting sunlight to electric has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years. Many people compare solar power technology to the microchip industry in its infancy, where capacity doubled every few years as the cost halved. Eventually this allowed the industry to crack the mass market and many experts believe the same will be so for the solar power industry.
You only need to look around to see examples of solar panels on roofs, converting sunlight into electric and in many cases eliminating domestic energy bills. There is even the opportunity to sell surplus electric back into the National Grid thereby bumping up your bank balance. It would be unfair to suggest that solar power has been accepted unilaterally across the UK but there is no doubt it is here to stay and is more efficient than it ever has been.
Despite the fact that wind power, along with solar power, is perhaps the most efficient renewable energy source available to us, it is a controversial subject. The problem is that the millions upon millions of pounds of subsidies paid to companies to erect and manage wind turbines have not gone down well with the public. There is also the problem of the location of many of these onshore wind farms which can be an eyesore and have a major impact upon the local countryside.
The offshore wind farm industry is one which does not attract the same attention as its onshore equivalent. However, we have seen a massive reduction in the production cost per megawatt hour of electric from £130 down to £97. There are offshore wind farms in the pipeline which are even more efficient and able to produce electric from wind energy at a cost of just £57 per megawatt hour. This compares much better to the current wholesale rate of between £40 and £50 per megawatt hour meaning that subsidies could well be removed completely in the short to medium term – once the industry has found its feet.
Every now and again governments and companies around the world will attempt to crack tidal power but it has to be said this is proving extremely difficult. We know there are immense currents under the oceans but it is the extreme cost of putting together a tidal power farm, maintaining the equipment and remaining as efficient as possible which is causing delays. It is fair to say that most of the focus in the short to medium term has been on solar and wind power and, unfortunately, sideshows such as tidal power appear to have missed out.
This could well change in the future because we know for a fact there are some areas of the UK where tidal power farms would more than pay for themselves. All we need is for technology to catch up with demand and then hopefully we can see an increase in the number of tidal power farms.
In simple terms biomass energy is energy created from plants and there are many biomass systems across the world. One of the more popular activities in this sector is the burning of trees for cooking and warmth with wood-burning stoves a prime example.
Critics will point to the amount of carbon gases released into the atmosphere as a major contributor to health issues in some of the large cities around the UK. The reality is that every tree used for fuel, even in a worst-case scenario, will only release the equivalent amount of carbon gases to those which it has ingested during its lifetime. Under normal circumstances far less carbon would be released than ingested but many critics are unwilling to accept this. We have also seen a significant tightening of regulations surrounding wood-burning stoves of late in an attempt to improve air pollution levels.
The future of renewable energy
There are also many other types of renewable energy such as hydroelectric energy, hydrogen fuel cells and geothermal power to name but three. While some renewable energy sources have drawbacks in relation to the gases they release into the atmosphere the same cannot be said for solar power, tidal power and wind power. These are perhaps the most efficient renewable energy sources available today and as such solar power and wind power in particular have received the most government investment and subsidies.
The main turning point for the renewable energy industry will come when individual sources are able to supply energy to households without any formal government subsidies. The offshore wind farm industry is very close to this, the solar power industry has come on in leaps and bounds of late and while tidal power has been starved of significant investment this could all change. With the correct investment, long-term strategies and government/business/consumer backing there is no reason why the level of renewable energy produced in the UK should not rise significantly in years to come.