Green Energy & The Environment
Green energy implies power that’s generated from renewable resources and that has minimal impact on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. But that’s just one part of a complex process. Some aspects of green energy production are the same as traditional power generation while other parts are dramatically different.
Primary Sources of Green Energy Production
Conventional energy sources come from combustible fossil fuels that are not renewable, emit greenhouse gases and cause air pollution. Nuclear power is an alternative option, and even though it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, its production does have a negative impact on the environment from mining and radioactive waste storage. This is where clean green energy differs the most from traditional power production.
Right now there are three primary sources of green energy:
The UK is one of the best locations for wind power in the world and is considered to be the best in Europe. By the beginning of November 2021, the UK had over 11,0000 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 24.3 GW (gigawatts): 13.9 GW of onshore capacity and 10.4 GW offshore, the sixth largest capacity of any country. Wind power contributed 24.8% of UK electricity supplied in 2020, having surpassed coal in 2016 and nuclear in 2018. It is the largest source of renewable electricity in the UK. The British Government has committed to a major expansion of offshore wind capacity by 2030.
The UK's annual insolation (exposure to the sun's rays) is in the range of 750–1,100 kilowatt-hours per square metre (kWh/m2). London receives 0.52 and 4.74 kWh/m2 per day in December and July, respectively. While the sunniest parts of the UK receive much less solar radiation than the sunniest parts of Europe, the country's insolation in the south is comparable with that of central European countries, including Germany, which generates about 7% of its electricity from solar power. Additionally, the UK's higher wind speeds actually cool PV modules, leading to higher efficiencies than might otherwise be expected.
Until the 2010s solar power represented a very small part of UK electricity production, when it increased rapidly, thanks to feed-in tariff (FIT) subsidies and the falling cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels.
As of June 2021, installed capacity exceeded 13.5 GW, with the 72 MW (megawatt) Shotwick Solar Farm being the largest producer. Annual generation was a little under 13 TWh in 2020 (4.1% of total UK electricity consumption).
As of 2018, hydroelectric power in the UK accounted for 1.87 GW of installed electrical generating capacity, representing 2.2% of total generating capacity and 4.2% of the renewable energy generating capacity. This includes four conventional hydroelectric power stations and run-of-river schemes for which annual electricity production is approximately 5,000 GWh. There are also pumped-storage hydroelectric power stations providing a further 2.8 GW of installed electrical generating capacity, contributing up to 4,075 GWh of peak demand electricity annually.
The potential for further practical and viable hydroelectric power stations is estimated to be in the region of 146 to 248 MW for England and Wales, and up to 2,593 MW for Scotland. However, by the nature of the remote and rugged geographic locations of some of these potential sites, in national parks or other areas of outstanding natural beauty, it is likely that environmental concerns would mean that many of them would be considered unsuitable, or could not be fully developed.