By Martin Desmond of Wizer Energy, Ireland.
As harmful carbon emissions continue to pollute the world’s environment, there is an urgent need for everyone to adapt to renewable energy. Ironically, it’s nature itself that may soon solve the energy crisis through air, water and sun.
To release the full potential of these elements, technology is being developed to maximise the efficiency and reliability of various schemes. The result should be a cleaner, greener world, combined with all the advantages of a modern society.
Transforming a country’s infrastructure from fossil fuels to renewable energy cannot happen overnight. However, the United Kingdom is demonstrating that with planning, innovative ideas, and investment, significant progress can quickly be achieved.
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UK Government Initiatives in Renewable Energy
The UK government is determined to reach its target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Consequently, it has launched a series of initiatives encouraging the rapid expansion of renewable energy. Some of these are backed by the Renewable Energy Support Scheme. It provides regular annual funding to help low-carbon technology break the country’s dependence on harmful fossil fuels.
As an example, £200 million a year has been allocated to harness energy from tidal streams. New policies have also been introduced. These include equipping new homes with solar panels and phasing out gas boilers by 2035.
There have been advancements in areas such as heat pumps, solar technology, hydroelectric power and environmentally-Friendly anaerobic methane Gas. We will discuss these in further detail now.
One of the most ambitious schemes is to install heat pumps in at least 600,000 UK homes by 2028. It may not be so unrealistic after all, as according to Statista, almost 240,000 properties in the UK had already switched to using a heat pump by 2019. Householders are finding that the highly efficient heat pump’s extremely low electricity usage significantly reduces household expenditure.
The heat pump also leaves a very small carbon footprint. It works by extracting warmth from the external air. This passes through a heat exchanger inside the heat pump. The process increases the temperature of the air before it’s released inside the home.
Air-to-Water Heat Pump
An alternative is the solar-assisted heat pump which is also known as an air-to-water pump. The system follows the same principles as a standard heat pump, but it has the additional advantage of supplementing the air’s heat with warmth from the sun’s rays. It is a highly efficient system, particularly for small homes, as it provides both heating and hot water.
As it can alternate between the two elements, it also continues to work efficiently during dense clouds. The system with the most potential for reliable performance is the ground-to-air heat pump.
However, it’s also the most complex, as it has to be buried several feet beneath soil level. By extracting the latent warmth naturally stored below ground, the system always has a much higher efficiency.
Solar power is the most widely used form of renewable energy in the UK. The installation of photovoltaic solar panels on the rooftops of homes and businesses has increased dramatically over the last decade.
Solar Energy UK is an organisation that collates information for scores of solar energy companies. Its independent research shows that one out of every twenty-five houses in the UK has installed solar photovoltaic panels. This may sound impressive, but in reality, it represents around 4.1% of the country’s twenty-nine million homes.
Versatility of Solar Energy
There are many advantages to installing a solar energy system. To begin with, the panels are very versatile. They can be positioned on a shed, level or pitched roof, and even on the ground. The panels generally consist of sixty or seventy-two photovoltaic cells. These are the components that capture the warmth of the sun.
For them to work to their fullest potential, the panels must be titled slightly to align with the sun. In the future, a recent development by Exeter University that operates the cells through multiple angles could help make the panels even more efficient.
How much Electricity do Solar Panels Produce?
At present, just one 300 kW solar panel receiving eight hours of bright sunshine produces approximately 2.5 kW of electricity. The average three-bedroom home may use around 12 kW of electricity per day. Therefore, the installation of five solar panels could supply enough off-grid electricity for a home’s daily needs. To enable any surplus energy to be available for use after sundown, a battery storage unit is required.
Solar Parks and Wildlife
An innovative scheme that should please environmentalists is the development of solar parks. At present, there are already approximately 600 such initiatives in the UK. These large-scale enterprises usually involve floating multiple solar panels on lakes in rural or parkland settings. The water helps improve the efficiency of the panels by keeping them consistently cool.
The solar parks should enhance natural habitats for a wide variety of birds, animals and plants. In addition, they are predicted to help increase general solar energy output by up to 70 gigawatts by 2035, which is around three times the current capacity.
There have been hydroelectric power stations in the UK for decades. One example is the Ben Cruachan Power Station in Scotland which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1965. Electricity is harnessed through a process that begins with water falling at a height from a reservoir.
Underwater turbines extract kinetic energy as they turn at speed. This is then converted to mechanical energy which operates a generator that releases the mechanical energy as electricity. But is the UK making the most of this natural energy source?
Hydroelectric Power in Your Own Home
Data from 2011 revealed that the UK was producing just 1.9% of its total energy from hydroelectric plants. There are plans to increase output by 2028 to 4.2%. Over the decade to 2021, there has been a general increase in GW. The Energy Savings Trust is a not-for-profit organisation that has highlighted the benefits of a domestic micro-hydroelectric system.
Householders need to be near suitable water sources such as fast-flowing rivers. Once installed, the system should consistently produce electricity twenty-four hours each day for heating and hot water. Installation costs vary depending on location, but the system compensates by providing inexpensive off-grid electricity that’s clean and green.
Environmentally-Friendly Anaerobic Methane Gas
Methane gas produced by waste products in landfill sites has often presented problems for the surrounding area. However, schemes for converting waste such as leftover household food, farm waste, and sewage into energy are already well underway, often with support from the government’s Green Gas Support Scheme (GGSS).
According to data from the UK government in 2020, anaerobic digestion was estimated to be equal to more than 1,020 thousand tonnes of oil. This represents a load factor of approximately 62.6%. The benefits to the environment are abundantly clear.
Data from Olleco reveals that using microscopic bacteria to convert waste into energy produces 96% less carbon emissions than traditionally produced electricity.
The UK’s policy towards green, renewable energy is an exciting development for the future. The schemes are designed to make the most of the country’s natural resources.
Many initiatives, such as developing hydroelectric power, have already been in place for more than half a century. As a large-scale energy provider, it complements wind farms and solar parks.
However, the main impetus in transforming the UK from fossil fuels to renewable green energy lies with ordinary households. It is here that the widespread use of heat pumps and solar panels can take place, helping deliver clean, green energy at reduced cost.
About the Author
Martin Desmond is the owner of Wizer Energy, a solar panel and EV charger installation company in Ireland.