Is the ‘Energy Revolution’ here?
The HERU Energy team have been looking at what the UK energy supply mix will look like in the future and asking “are changes happening fast enough?”
Many agree we are in the midst of an energy revolution. Rapidly declining resources and steeply increasing environmental issues have ensured that our governing bodies and industry leaders are looking closer at how we make and use energy more efficiently.
And it has been working. We are a lot more efficient at producing power than we ever have been. In fact, we use less energy today than we did in the 1970s despite many more people on the grid and this is thanks to the evolution of the energy mix.
The biggest change over recent times has been the switch from using coal for electricity generation to using natural gas in the infamous ‘Dash for Gas’ during the 1990s. This happened mostly because North Sea gas prices became much cheaper than coal and the electricity industry became mostly privatised.
Today households use 12% less energy, while industry uses a massive 60% less. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) forecasts that energy efficiencies will continue to offset population growth, so that we will use about the same amount of energy in 2030 as we do today. In other words, the UK will use less energy in 2030 than it did in 1970.
All great news, but dig a little deeper and you realise that we have also had a massive increase in cars on the road with the transport sector using 50% more energy than in the 70s. We also have problems with efficiency in energy generation with only half the energy stored in primary fuel ending up as electricity and conversion efficiency of power stations is still only at about 40%-65%. Power stations also take a lot of energy to run. Energy is also lost in transmission, when passing that energy over to the national grid and into homes.
With the controversial plans to extract Shale Gas from the North of the UK being considered as a viable source of energy for the UK, despite concerns of increasing greenhouse gas emission, what will our energy mix look like in the future?
The UK governing body, The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), suggests we will see coal obsolete by 2030, with gas, oil and nuclear all in the decline with an upsurge in renewable energy such as wind and solar power.
Ambitious? We wonder if these changes are happening fast enough and will we see this change to renewable energy happen in time to make a big difference to our environment and our community?
Jim Skea, research director at the UK Energy Research Centre, says: “The aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency opportunities is needed. Given lead times for implementing policies and getting technologies in place, 2020 is essentially tomorrow.”
Baroness Verma, UK energy minister from May 2015 until July 2016 also acknowledged that the UK was facing "a number of unprecedented challenges.”
So where do we go from here? At HERU we believe that the answers lie with engineers and innovators, people willing to take their vision and make it become a reality. We’d like to see increased support for new Greentech solutions, the same support that helped us when we started looking at the HERU.
As Jim Skea says 2020 is essentially now, and now is the time to act.
Credit: This article was put together using information and resource from DECC (The Department of Energy and Climate Change) and National grid as well as commentary from BBC and The Guardian.