No single source of energy will give us the answer to the future energy shortfall. Some sources are carbon intensive, while others can be costly. Some rely on imported fuels, while others may generate electricity intermittently. And some use resources that are quite simply running out.
To provide a secure energy supply for the future, the UK needs a diverse mix of energy sources. If we use them together, they can compensate for each other’s limitations.
The figures for UK average fuel mix are provided by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Nuclear power comes from the energy contained in atoms. This energy can be released as heat from a chain reaction in a radioactive element such as uranium.
Nuclear power stations use this heat to produce steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity.
Coal is a fossil fuel made from plants that were buried millions of years ago. High temperatures and high pressures underground transformed the plants physically and chemically into coal.
Coal still contains the energy those plants absorbed from the sun all those millions of years ago. Burning coal releases this energy in the form of heat, which is used to heat water. This generates steam, which drives a turbine, which generates electricity.
There’s certainly no shortage of wind in the UK. Turbines capture and convert simple kinetic energy into electricity.
As a means of generating electricity, one of their main advantages is their low carbon footprint. The only CO2 emissions come during their actual manufacture.
However, they only produce electricity when the wind is sufficient. So they will just be part of our energy mix rather than the solution to it.
We also have to be aware of their impact on UK landscapes.