It may be the case that fossil fuels remain the most reliable forms of energy today. But fossil fuels are also reliable in their negative impact on the environment, causing global warming and polluting our air.
Reliability should not be considered without acknowledging sustainability which throws the debate between fossil fuels and renewables into the air.
Energy consumption is rising in the UK. Between 2005 and 2030, energy consumption is set to increase by 50%. This is mainly down to a growing population and increased demand.
Fossil fuels remain our most in-demand energy sources in the UK. That’s not surprising. We’ve been utilising coal for centuries. And it has been ingrained in our industrialised world since the 19th century.
But fossil fuels are undoubtedly reliable in terms of their predictability once sourced and put to use. That said, growing pressures to move towards green energy is one of the factors behind closures to more coal power stations. Coal’s use is now at its lowest output for 80 years.
However, natural gas power is on the up. The presence of gas fired power stations rose 45% between 2015 and 2016 in part as a result of coalmine closures.
Thankfully, natural gas emits 45% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil. This shows the impact it has on the environment is not as extreme as other forms of fossil fuel.
Conveniently, gas is a multi-use energy source and can provide energy for a variety of reasons. It has its own purpose domestically for cooking, heating and drying as well as being able to generate electric power, power vehicles, produce plastics and many more useful purposes.
Gas is the energy source that is most available on a worldwide scale and is extracted by many countries for use through a drilling method.
But it still isn’t green, renewable or infinite. While renewable energy suffers from constraints around its ability to capture and store energy, it doesn’t harm the environment and presents a source that is sustainable.
Indeed, renewable energy is a growing source of energy in the UK and worldwide. Many countries are investing in solar panels and wind farms to generate electricity in new ways.
The energy powered from wind farms depends on the strength of the wind at the time of generation. In 2016, it was reported that windfarms across the UK generated more electricity than coal power plants and were able to produce more power than solar panels.
Worldwide, solar power is becoming an increasingly used power source. Currently, the UK is leading in Europe with the growth of solar energy produced. In the entirety of Europe, solar provides 4% of all electricity demand.
In addition to fossil fuels and green energy, there are many who promote the benefits of nuclear power. In June 2017, it was reported that it accounted for 23.2% of energy generated in the UK. This source of energy does not emit carbon dioxide but has its drawbacks, particularly around the waste that is produced and must be safely dealt with.
Can renewables be our reliable source of energy in future? The answer simply is YES. Recent studies by industry experts show that renewable energy can be achieved reliably, while obviously reducing carbon emissions. Also, emerging technologies in energy storage mean that reliability is enhanced by negating the impact of, for example, the sun not shining on solar panels or the wind not rotating a turbine.
Said the Union of Concerned Scientists: “A groundbreaking study found that the U.S. can generate 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050 using existing technologies, with as much as half coming from wind and solar, while reliably meeting electricity demand across the country every hour of every day, year-round.
“A 2015 survey of 1,400 independent energy experts from 70 countries found more than 80% agree an electricity system powered by 70% renewable energy is achievable by 2050, and nearly half believe it can be done by 2030. And emerging energy storage technologies are also poised to make it possible to store electricity for use when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.”