Renewable Energy

Renewable energy refers to energy sources derived from natural processes which will continue indefinitely and not deplete finite reserves of materials.  Examples include solar energy, wind, hydro electric and tidal/wave power.

Human emissions of carbon dioxide have climbed for centuries, taking atmospheric concentration from 280 parts per million at the beginning of the industrial era to 414 PPM in July 2020.  By trapping solar heat, this is messing with the earth’s climate, threatening disastrous runaway warming.  The effects are being felt around the world.  Denial is silly.

The UK has committed to a zero-carbon target by 2050.  This is too slow, and progress does not match the policy hype.  In politics, when all is said and done, far more is said than done.

We must believe the science.  We must not continue in our wastefulness and apathy, dumping the consequences on future generations.  We must reduce our emissions rapidly to very low levels.

So where are we now ?

The UK power grid emits around 229 grammes of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity  (12 months to July 2020), against a target of between 50 and 100 g/Kwh by 2030.  Around 40% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, mainly gas.  You can monitor the pulse of the UK grid; check out  Of all cars registered in the UK in 2019, only 1.6% were plug-in electric.

We have a lot of catching up to do…

By National Government

Stop subsidising air travel.  Tax aviation fuel.  Stop airport expansion.

Switch investment from expensive, potentially dangerous, nuclear power to renewable sources.  Support the creation of wind farms – loads of them.  We are one of the best-placed countries for wind energy and we should take full advantage.

We have almost ended the use of coal for power generation.  Now we need to reduce demand and increase renewable supplies to squeeze gas turbine electricity generation out of the grid.

Expand the high voltage direct current power grid, along the east coast and from the south east towards the west country.  This raises the efficiency of moving energy and makes the grid more resilient to local demand peaks.  It also improves the viability of wind farms in remote windy places.

Our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic should focus on Green investments in energy conservation, solar panels, not business as usual.  We should work less, spend less and live more.

By Local Government

Milton Keynes Council is committed to net-zero carbon by 2030 and to become the World’s Greenest City by 2050.  We must keep them to these targets and hold their feet to the fire if they prevaricate.

Support local renewable energy and efficiency initiatives in businesses, schools, hospitals, police services and waste management.

Liaise with local people to bring them to the table and create growing momentum for change.

By households

Monitor energy use, looking to reduce waste and make viable improvements to insulation.  Consider reducing heating temperatures and use eco-friendly washing programmes.  Don’t use a tumble dryer.

In some homes it may pay to install solar panels. Seek qualified objective professional advice.

If your central heating boiler fails, it may be worth investing in a heat pump replacement system. Seek qualified objective professional advice. Note that there is interesting ongoing research into the efficiency of heat pumps. Future versions will incorporate updated compressor motors and will use propane gas as the working fluid, giving better performance, especially in cold weather.

Switch to a renewable energy supplier.  This helps promote investment in renewable energy by providing market share.  But remember that climate change follows gas emissions, not money.  Paying a green supplier and still using grid power means that your usage adds to the amount of gas burned to meet the grid demand.  You are still emitting about 450 grammes of CO2/Kwh used.  This will remain the case until the grid is decarbonised.  If you want to be carbon-neutral now, you need to offset your carbon debt.  This can be a minefield of misinformation and profiteering. It may be simpler and more efficient to donate “conscience money” to a relevant campaign.

Snake oil alerts

Don’t accept the idea that incineration of refuse is a green way to create electric power.  The right way to deal with waste is to eliminate it at source.  Burning it creates toxic fumes and ashes – long term pollution risks.  Burning waste sustains a market for more rubbish to be produced, even transporting it long distances to feed the greedy furnaces.

Burning “Biomass” is sold as a Green idea, but some biomass plants burn huge quantities of wood chips, often made by stripping rich forest habitats, including vast amounts shipped from the USA.  Drax power station in Yorkshire is estimated to burn around 400 Kilos of wood pellets PER SECOND. Drax is paid nearly £1 billion per year in subsidies to produce “Renewable Energy” charged to UK energy consumers.

Also, waste wood can be contaminated with paints, glues and preservatives, causing toxic emissions. Burning used tyres can also be claimed as “biomass” because of the rubber content.

Future ideas on the horizon

Oil from algae
Experimental projects are growing natural algae in solar panel water circulating systems, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and growing masses of green slime.  This is treated to extract oil.  Residues can be used as green compost in agriculture, or fermented, making bio-methane gas.  Scaled up, such circular processes could provide diesel or aircraft fuels.

Hydro-kinetic energy
Machines like wind turbines are installed under the sea where they are turned by ocean currents to produce electricity.  Careful location – often in currents around small islands – can provide useful output 24/7, with peaks created by tidal flows.

Dynamic Demand Management
Demand for power is controlled remotely to balance against supply, using online data and artificial intelligence.  In one scenario, consumers programme appliances to turn on and off according to price signals online, eg “I want to heat water and charge my car only with off-peak energy that is cheaper than 25p/Kwh”.  Alternatively, industrial users are given cheaper tariffs if they allow generators to turn off their equipment to cope with short peaks in demand.  Such control helps deal with the so-called “Corrie humps”, where millions of people watch the popular Coronation Street series on television and when the programme ends about a million of them all decide to make a cup of tea !

Useful links for information

Global Algae. Commercial production of algae as a farm enterprise.
“Our vision is to harness the unparalleled productivity of algae to provide food and fuel for the world, dramatically improving the environment, economy, and quality of life for all people.”
BBC Panorama programme on Drax power station