The type of energy we use to power things like electricity and heating can have an impact on the environment. It is important to consider what energy source your supplier relies on in order to make environmentally friendly choices. Historically, we have relied mostly on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas for energy. However, this is a non-renewable energy source, which means it will eventually run out. Renewable energy is power that is generated from natural resources that are constantly replenished. By opting for renewable energy sources, we can help promote environmental sustainability.
Non-renewable energy sources
Fossil fuels: Fossil fuels are non-renewable. This means that they will run out eventually, which is why the cost of energy is increasing. Coal, oil and natural gas are examples of fossil fuels. They’re burnt to generate electricity – however, carbon dioxide is released during this process. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means it enhances the greenhouse effect and contributes to global warming. Using oil as an energy source has other environmental consequences, as oil spillages frequently occur which destroys marine life. Oil is currently refined to produce fuels such as petrol and diesel for transport. This again releases carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
Nuclear: This energy source uses naturally occurring radioactive material. Usually, uranium is manufactured into fuel rods for nuclear reactors. Neutron particles collide with the fuel rods and generate heat. This turns water into steam with drives turbines to generate electricity. Like fossil fuels, this is non-renewable. However, supplies are plentiful and this process does not produce greenhouse gases.
Renewable energy sources
Solar: Sunlight can produce electrical energy by using a photovoltaic cell. They are usually arranged in aluminium frames known as solar panels. They can be integrated into the cladding, roof tiles or glazing of a building. This is a free and unlimited source of energy. However, its effectiveness is determined by the number of hours of daylight, cloud and poor weather.
Wind: Wind turbines turn wind into electrical energy. Since the U.K. is the windiest country in Europe, there is a lot of potential for generating renewable energy from this source. Wind power is an intermittent source of energy, so sites for wind farms are chosen carefully to effectively generate power. They have a large visual impact on landscape and local residents often oppose plans to install them.
Hydroelectric: Hydroelectric energy generates electricity from flowing water using turbines and other devices. It’s renewable and can be generated from rivers or manmade installations.
Wave and tidal: Energy from the sea is used to drive electricity generated turbines. Wave power uses the power from surface wave energy and tidal power is generated by tidal waters flowing through tidal barrages in estuaries. A tidal estuary is a partially enclosed body of water. They have one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, with connection to the open sea. Wave and tidal power is a renewable energy source, but there are concerns that tidal power generation will adversely affect marine and bird life in river estuaries.
Geothermal: As the core of the earth is hot we can use its geothermal energy as a renewable heat source or to generate electricity. This heat is accessible just a few kilometres below the earth’s surface.
What’s the difference?
The supplies of fossil fuels are limited. Therefore, relying too heavily on non-renewable energy sources is not sustainable. When fossil fuels are burnt, they release various pollutants such as greenhouse gases. The extraction process of fossil fuels also poses several environmental risks. For example, when transporting oil, there is a chance of spillages which destroy marine life. Mining for coal is an incredibly dangerous job as miners are exposed to toxic dust. However, there are advantages of using fossil fuels. They are relatively inexpensive to extract, portable and their effectiveness isn’t dependent on weather conditions. Some people are also put off by renewable energy sources such as solar panels because of the high upfront cost of installing them. Despite these concerns, there are less maintenance costs associated with renewable energy sources. As supplies of fossil fuels begin to run out, the cost of extracting them will increase.
The world-leading furniture retailer IKEA has been promoting renewable energy sources since 2018. In a bid to tackle climate change, IKEA pledge to produce as much renewable energy as they consume by 2020. They rely on solar power and have installed over 75,000 solar panels on their stores and other buildings. This is an example of business actively engaging with environmental problems and taking relevant measures to improve the impact they have on the environment. Their new business ‘Home Solar’ also aims to help customers transition to renewable sources of energy.