Renewables have rapidly become a key player in the UK’s electricity generation and continue to develop exponentially as worldwide efforts to improve the climate change situation continue. The UK has a wonderfully diverse and vast landscape that provides us with the resources for a large mixture of renewable generation. As with many countries, no one source is responsible for all electricity generation in any part of the country: each contributes to what we refer to as the ‘energy mix’. On this page you’ll find out some of the key ways the UK generates its clean, green electricity.
How much renewable electricity do we generate?
The numbers change frequently in relation to the overall energy mix, but the last official figures (2016) estimated that around 15% of all electricity, annually, was represented by renewables. Since this, other sources have suggested that this number is far higher, especially on a day to day basis. National Grid, for example, said that in June 2017, low-carbon sources made up around 70% of all electricity , with wind being the most prominent of these sources. Of course, this includes nuclear, but renewables are a chief stakeholder in that figure.
On June 7th 2017, Draw Power Station in North Yorkshire, Britain’s largest power station, reported a record 19.3 GW of renewable generation which was enough to supply more than 50% of midday power demand across the country.
The short answer to the above question is that the UK is generation a huge amount of renewable electricity and this number only seems to be increasing. As factors such as the 2040 petrol car ban creep up on us, renewables are only going to carry on rising up the ranks.
Wind energy is the UK’s number one source of renewable energy. On Christmas Day 2016, wind energy was responsible for an estimated 40% of all electricity used, which is a testament to just how much powerful the potential of wind is.
Wind energy is the conversion of naturally occurring wind into usable electricity by powering the generators situated in the fan-shaped turbines that pepper our rural landscape. Although wind power is variable and isn’t perhaps the most reliable of renewable sources, the UK is ‘lucky’ enough to have pretty consistent high wind speeds, which is great news for wind energy.
Groups of wind turbines, called wind farms, are scattered across the many miles of Great British soil. Sometimes even further afield than our soil. Offshore wind farms such as the London Array Project, situated just off the Thames Estuary, has the biggest capacity in the UK, weighing in at 630,000 kW, enough to power over 890,000 homes and businesses in real-time every hour.
Solar energy is a rising renewable source. Having been avoided by many renewable developers due to the poor efficiency of the panels, solar panels are yet to fulfil their true potential. At any one moment, the earth takes in around 173 trillion kW of energy from the sun , which is more than 10,000 times more than the entire planet uses. Just harvesting a minute portion of this potential would give us all the power that we could ever need, but in order to do that, solar panel technology has a long way to go in terms of efficiency.
Solar panels are made up photovoltaic cells that convert the heat energy given off by the sun into usable electricity. Due to the small amount of conversion made by just one cell, each panel is made up of multiple cells. Obviously there is a key downside to solar panels, which is when the sun goes in, generation stops. For household solar panels, this has been counterbalanced by the usage of storage batteries, enabling people to store up energy for times of low light.
Although you may think the UK isn’t particularly suited to solar energy, due to our sun-deprivation, but solar panels can operate in very low light, including completely overcast days. Of course these panels will function better in times of intense sunlight, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t harvest our fair share of the sun’s rays. The biggest of our UK solar farms is ‘Chapel Lane’ in Bournemouth. This has an impressive area that equates to around 175 football pitches-worth of panels. At its best, this farm will generate a massive 51,300 kW, enough to power 60,000 homes and businesses.