Earthsummit 2002 - A guide to UK Local Agenda 21 renewable energy projects. Earthsummit 2002
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Renewable Energy.

Energy is essential.

Energy is an essential prerequisite to modern society, we use energy (in the form of electricity) to light our homes, refrigerate our food and run our appliances. It caters for our needs, creating home comforts and entertainment incomprehensible to our ancestors even a century ago.

A change has taking place in recent times and people are becoming increasingly aware that our insatiable demand for energy is compromising our very existence on this planet. Traditional methods of generating electricity depend upon the burning of finite natural resources (coal, oil & gas). These are unsustainable resources because they will soon dwindle and eventually run out altogether.

People are also realising that many of the worlds global warming and pollution problems are contributed partly in the way we choose to exploit energy. So, what's the solution to this global problem? Renewable energy.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy (solar, wind and water) is called sustainable energy because it will never run out - it is constantly renewing itself.

Naturally occurring flows of the environment such as the sun's rays the wind or the waves can all be harnessed to generate electricity. The idea of harnessing natural energy flows is not a new one, almost two and a half thousand years ago (500 BC) the Greeks and Persians were developing the principles of using passive solar power. Windmills appeared around the same time and water wheels about a thousand years later.

Modern technologies for harnessing the same energy flows are highly developed and work with far greater efficiency. Sunlight can be converted directly into electricity using solar photovoltaic (PV) cells; the type found powering a pocket calculator. Wind turbines are used to generate electricity from the wind and modern turbine design is cost-effective and very efficient.

Hydro-electricity, wave power and tidal power all make use of the natural flows of water. Biomass uses the burning of biological materiel (plants, wood, rubbish and waste) to create energy. Geothermal involves extracting heat energy from deep below the earth's surface. And very recently a new form of renewable energy called fuel cell technology has started to emerge and is still under developed by scientists.

What does renewable energy offer?

Renewable energy offers a diverse and flexible range of technologies, which can be far easier to deploy than traditional methods of generating electricity. A nuclear power station, for example, can take up to 10 years to plan and build and will produce radioactive pollution once up and running. Whereas small renewable schemes serving local communities can provide quick, clean harmonious solutions. The electricity can be generated close to where it's required reducing the transportation costs and transmission losses often associated with traditional power stations.

Together with curbing climate change, the diversity and sustainability renewable energy provides means an inexhaustible and flexible source of energy for the future.

Can it work in the UK?

It most certainly can, each day enough renewable energy to meet our national energy requirements (without depleting our coal, oil or gas reserves) goes untapped and unused! Renewable energy has an enormous potential and capacity to become a sustainable and dominant technology in the UK. We have considerable potential for harnessing the waves and tides as well as wind and solar power.

The challenge now is to ensure further development and deployment of the technology to harness this vast quantity of clean, unused energy.

© Ambit Interactive 2002
This web site has been produced with funding from
The Open University
The DTI's New and Renewable Energy Programme
Scottish and Southern Energy plc.