Can Britain survive on just renewable energy?

It’s a debate that many of us have encountered, either through watching television, reading newspapers, or even engaging in conversation with friends and family. There is currently a big campaign for Britain to become a more renewable nation, with a lot of the arguments being against fossil fuels and nuclear power. So I’ve decided to give a bit more information on the maximum potential of each energy source that is available to us in Britain so that hopefully each reader can decide for themselves what they think is the best energy plan for Britain. I will begin with focusing on renewable energy sources, and whether Britain can be solely run on them.

To start off simply, fossil fuels are running out. At some point in the future they will be no more, with many suggesting it will happen within the next 50 to 100 years, which is in the majority of the current population’s lifetime. That’s not Britain’s only energy problem though, as there is a substantial amount of coal power stations and nuclear power stations that will be closing down in the next 10 years or so, leaving a power gap.

Britain currently has a consumption rate of about 195 kWh/d/p (kilo watt hours per day per person). This is on areas like Cars, Jet Flights, Heating, Cooling, Lighting, Gadgets, Food, Transportation and Defence.

So can renewable energy sources cover this amount of consumption?

The main types of renewable energy are Wind, Solar, Hydroelectric, Waves and Tides, and I will address each one individually. So first up is…..

Wind Power

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Wind power can be split into two categories, onshore wind and offshore wind.

Britain could actually be fully dependant on onshore wind turbines; however you would need to cover the entire country in them! Presumably the general public do not want that to happen, so let’s suggest a compromise of 10% of Britain’s land space to be used for Wind farms. Should that happen then we can produce a maximum of 20 kWh/d/p. For comparison, the amount of energy needed to produce and fuel cars is 40 kWh/d/p, so onshore wind power could only cover half of our main transportation system. Also to produce this amount of energy we would need double the amount of wind turbines in the world at the moment.

Offshore wind power can be split into two more categories, shallow and deep. The wind at sea is both stronger and steadier than inland, therefore there is potential to produce more power.  The total area of Britain’s shallow coastline is roughly equal to twice the size of Wales, and if wind turbines were placed in each available point then we could generate 16 kWh/d/p of energy.

With deep offshore wind farms we would need to leave space for shipping lanes, so if we take 30% of the possible area, roughly 30% larger than Wales, then we can produce 32 kWh/d/p.

However, the corrosive effect of sea water would require the wind turbine to be constantly fixed and would be very expensive to maintain.

So if we total up the potential energy from Wind power, we get 68 kWh/p/d.

 

Solar Power

Nellis_AFB_Solar_panels

We can split solar power into two types, solar thermal (using sunshine for direct heating of buildings or water) and Solar Photovoltaic (generating electricity).

If we were to put a solar thermal panel on the south facing side of every roof then could deliver a maximum of 13 kWh/d/p of energy per person, however if this energy is not used directly then it cannot be transferred into the power grid.

If we did the same with solar photovoltaic panels then we could deliver 5 kWh/p/d of energy. If we increased the scale up to building solar farms on say 5% of Britain’s land then we could generate 50 kWh/d/p.

So added to the wind power potential we can cover 95 kWh/d/p of the 195 kWh/d/p consumption, but it would cover 15% of the country and would be expensive to produce.

Hydroelectricity

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Depending on the amount of rainfall and suitable places to build reservoirs, plus if every drop of water was used without evaporation then we could deliver 1.5 kWh/d/p.  As it stands Britain only produces 0.2 kWh/d/p so would need to increase its funding sevenfold.

Waves and Tides

Pelamis-Wave-Energy-Converter

One thing that Britain could take advantage of is wave technology, due to being situated in between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. If we were to cover 500km of the Atlantic Coastline with wave machines then we could generate 4 kWh/d/p.

Once again the sheer scale and cost involved would be detrimental factors, plus it is a low amount of energy for a lot of work.

Making full use of the incoming and outgoing tides could also add 11 kWh/d/p to our production.

So to conclude, adding all the potential energy from renewable sources gives us 152.5 kWh/d/p, which isn’t that far away from covering Britain’s current consumption of 195 kWh/d/p. However, cost bares an effective barrier in producing this amount of energy and public opinion is also very important, as many people would not be appreciative of the view from their house suddenly being ruined by giant wind turbines for example. This will reduce the figures above by a large amount, meaning there will still be a large energy gap.

So it is clear that Britain could not be fully dependant on renewable energy alone, unless it reduced its energy consumption by a considerable amount or there are huge advances in the renewable sector.

There are of course other energy sources, like nuclear power and more sustainable options for coal power, both of which I will look at in my next blog and at that point hopefully you can get an idea of the choices ahead for Britain.

 

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