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Renewable energy for beginners

It's a really interesting subject but if you don't want to spend hours reading about it, here are the basics.

This is a simple look at what renewable energy is, how it's great for the environment, how it impacts our homes & our finances so that a regular Jo(e) like me gets it - quickly!

The super short story:

  1. Solar energy - yep from the sun using solar panels on the roof of our houses we can capture this energy to supplement our home use. Solar panels are also in vast quantities on pieces of land for more renewable generation to the grid.

  2. Wind - wind farms are really common to see out at sea (offshore) or again on vast swathes of open land (onshore). The wind turbines drive electricity generators that feed into the national grid.

  3. Hydro energy - using large reservoirs to create a flow of water that drives the turbines that creates electricity.

  4. Tidal energy - handy being an island and our seas ebb and flow twice a day, this also drives turbine generators.

  5. Biomass energy - burning industrial, agricultural and domestic organic waste to create solid fuel, liquid and gas.

  6. Geothermal energy - just watch this little video

So essentially renewable, or "green" energy is what is created / generated by something that cannot run out, it is sustainable unlike fossil fuels such as coal which will run out.

A few questions around some of the terminology:

  1. What is net or low carbon energy?

  2. What is "The Grid"? And what does it mean to go "Off Grid"?

  3. What is nuclear energy?

1. Much like an invisible greenhouse surrounding the globe, gasses such as carbon dioxide remain in our atmosphere meaning that heat stays surrounding us and gets warmer the more these gasses build up, hence global warming.

Our carbon footprint therefore is the amount of gasses something emits over it's lifecycle whether that's a person, an animal, a building, transport, manufacturing, literally everything has an impact.

Trees are essential as they use carbon dioxide & produce oxygen for us in return. A lot of energy suppliers are doing great work with supporting renewable energy production and green initiatives. Here's one example:

If we can live in a low carbon generating way this is a good thing. But it's not easy.

Net carbon energy is balancing what we're using with what we're capturing in the atmosphere but of course it's clear we need to simply use less.

Here's a cool little video explaining it for GCSE students - see I said it was for beginners!

2. The National Grid is the huge network involved in getting power that's been produced whichever way, to our homes & businesses via power lines from power stations and wind farms. Being on a green tariff does not mean your home is personally powered by renewable energy because all generated energy is collected into the one place and we all get a mixture delivered to us.

What our green tariffs do however is to ensure that the supplier is buying / generating as much renewable energy over the year to put into the mix as you're using.

Most suppliers are just suppliers, most buy wholesale from national companies such as NPower. More on that here

To prove the renewable energy contribution, most energy suppliers buy certificates called Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) and with gas they are called Renewable Gas Guarantees of Origin (RGGO)

There has been a problem however with these certificates being purchased by a few suppliers with limited intent on putting the same renewables back into the network because of a loop hole... links at the bottom to an article edited in March of this year but I don't want to get all political in this blog.

If choosing renewable energy suppliers is your priority I'm sure you will do your own due diligence.

So to be "Off Grid" means there is no power supplied from the grid so all power will come from renewably generated sources on your own land or community.

Failing that, cold baths and candlelight!

Remember The Good Life?

By the very nature of generating renewable energy there is still an issue with supply and demand so for the foreseeable there will be a mixture.

Less sunshine, lower winds, can't do much about the weather!

Because of the investments being made in technology for generating in a more renewable way usually 100% green tariffs cost more.

Production of renewables in the UK has been at it's highest with the first quarter of this year at 41% of the energy mix lead by wind power. Geek out with pdf at the end!

3. Nuclear energy is a huge talking point, links at the bottom if you want to explore further, but the nuts & bolts of it are; it is generated by using uranium which is a substance mined from rocks / ore and generates over 2 million times more energy compared to coal! It generates vast quantities but supplies will run out, not for another couple of hundred years but they will.

The process is actually deemed low carbon compared to other fossil fuels, through nuclear power stations like the iconic Battersea in London although now a very swanky entertainment venue and expensive apartments!

But definitely not a renewable source and there are some downsides to using nuclear power you can read more about via the links at the bottom.

So thank you for reading, the next edition will be around your own homes generating & using solar power, how you can sell this back to the grid and also using ground source heat pumps.

If you would like to chat to me about your energy, domestic or small business, maybe you're moving house and not sure what to go for, please book either a 15 min call or a longer version here.

Bye for now


Resources and credits

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