So if you managed to read my last blog entitled ‘Can Britain survive on just renewable energy?’ you would have discovered that the answer is…….well, no. Unfortunately most of the current renewable technologies just aren’t efficient enough to cover our current energy needs. So what other energy sources can we use to plug the gap?
Britain’s current energy production is 90% fossil fuels, so can we make this source more sustainable to make it last as long as possible? It takes 2 million years to create coal so unfortunately we cannot casually create more as and when we please – therefore we can try and make it more sustainable through carbon capture and storage.
There is only roughly 7 gigatonnes of coal left in Britain, which at current rates could produce 6 kWh/d/p of energy until the source ultimately runs out. So that just confirms what we knew already, that coal and other fossils fuels will not make a big impact in our future consumption levels.
The future of Britain’s main energy supply, and this is a controversial one, could actually be in nuclear power, and I’ll start off with a quote from Patrick Moore:
“We made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons, as if all things nuclear were evil. I think that’s as big a mistake as if you lumped nuclear medicine in with nuclear weapons.”
The fact is that nuclear power has the most potential to produce the most energy, but to the majority of the public the very word ‘nuclear’ immediately makes up their mind to say no.
There are two types of nuclear power – Nuclear Fission and Nuclear Fusion.
Nuclear Fission is the process we currently use in our nuclear power stations, which splits uranium nuclei (a heavy element) into medium sized nuclei to create energy. The potential energy from nuclear atoms is one million times more than the chemical energy from other fuels. This means that the amount of fuel and waste can be a million times smaller from a nuclear power station than at an equivalent fossil fuel power station.
There is currently 4.7 million tonnes of uranium in the earth at the moment, so there is no shortage of potential fuel. A once through one giga-watt reactor uses 162 tonnes of uranium per year, which could produce 0.55 kWh/d/p. So, 360 of this type of nuclear reactor could cover our consumption rate. In fast breeder reactors uranium can be used 60 times more efficiently, by re using the waste from once through reactions, which can produce an energy of 33kWh/d/p.
However, the uranium from the ocean dwarves the amount that can be mined, as there is nearly 4500 million tonnes worth. If it is put through once through reactors we can produce 7 kWh/d/p of energy. In fast breeder we can produce 420 kWh/d/p of energy – which can comfortably cover our current consumption rate of 195kWh/d/p.
Unfortunately though, there is no system developed yet to scoop out the uranium from the ocean, so all this potential energy is still just potential.
Uranium is not the only source we could use for nuclear power either, as Thorium provides a similar alternative. Thorium is currently three times as common as uranium, and is being used in reactors in India. When used in conventional reactors, thorium can produce energy of 4kWh/d/p, and in a proposed energy amplifier it could be increased to 24 kWh/d/p.
So you can see that nuclear fission can potentially produce enough energy to at least cover a large amount of current consumption.
Now, let’s move on to nuclear fusion. This is currently just theory as it is the reaction that occurs in the heart of the sun, and is 100% efficient. Whether it can be replicated or not on Earth is another matter, but should it be successful it would change everything.
Nuclear fusion takes light nuclei and fuses them together into medium sized nuclei, creating energy. There are two reactions in nuclear fusion – the DT reaction, which fuses deuterium with tritium to make helium, and the DD reaction, which fuses deuterium with deuterium.
If the DD reaction were to be harnessed, then the potential energy that could be produced could easily be 30,000 kWh/d/p! So you can see why there is a lot of study and research going into developing nuclear fusion, as we would have an almost unlimited amount of potential energy.
So there you have it, a potential figure for each of the energy sources available to Britain. Obviously we cannot just rely on one alone, but then again we can rely on some more than others. So the question is……. What combination of sources would you choose and how much of each would you want?
When the fossil fuels run out, that is the question we may have to answer one day.
And since my last couple of blogs have been pretty serious and detailed, have a click on the image below……