Campaigners want more use of power from the elements
The government has pledged that 10% of the UK’s energy will come from renewable energy sources by 2010 – a promise backed up by a £100m boost announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday.
Mark Johnston, Climate Solutions Campaigner with Friends of the Earth (FoE), says while environmentalists welcome Mr Blair’s announcement, they would like to see the 10% target doubled.
But at present less than 3% of Britain’s electricity comes from alternative sources and to Ian Fells, Professor of Energy Conversion at Newcastle University, achieving the target by 2010 would be “difficult”.
BBC News Online asked both men to weigh up the benefits and problems of different sources of renewable energy.
Wind –
WindWind power has created a lot of interest in recent years and is one of the world’s fastest growing energy technologies.There are about 60 wind farms around the UK and the first off-shore farm was opened last year off Blyth, Northumberland.
The use of wind power is rising rapidly
However, just 0.25 of the Britain’s energy needs are currently met through wind power. The UK is one of the windiest countries in Europe so it makes sense to harness the energy. According to Mark Johnston, the UK has the potential to provide three times its current energy requirements with wind power.
We could rely more heavily on this source in the winter when the weather is windier.
It is also cheap to harness.
Each wind turbine is large – about 70m across – and some people object to the idea of them dotting the landscape.
They generate a relatively low amount of power and Professor Fells reckons 1,500 turbines would have to be built by 2010 for 2.5% of our energy to come from the wind.
The wind does not blow all the time so we would need to use a battery technology to store the energy, which is expensive to do.
Solar –
Energy from the sun can be harnessed in solar cells – also called photo-voltaic cells. These can be small enough to meet specific energy needs such as heating a house’s water or grouped together in large banks.
While solar energy is expensive to harness at present, it is rapidly coming down in price. Mark Johnston says it should be as cheap as wind within a decade. We could rely on this source more in the summer although at least one company has developed a cell which can be used in low light and possibly even moonlight. It is expensive to harness so it would need a high level of subsidy to make it viable.
As with wind, this is an intermittent source of energy which might need a battery technology to make it reliable.