The government wants the UK to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050, but is this possible?
Farmer Martin Edwards based in north Cornwall in the village of Delabole arguably started the green revolution. After suffering in a storm, his mother stated ‘if only we could use the wind rather than be done by it’ which is where it all started. Fast forward to 1991, Edwards and his brother opened the UK’s first commercial wind farm.
They had little objections due to people not knowing what to expect. The original 10 turbines have since been replaced with 4 bigger, more efficient generators of renewable energy.
There are now more than 10,000 of these modern-day windmills in the UK – 8,000 of them being onshore and 2,000 being offshore. This has resulted in the price of wind energy generation plummeting since Edwards first installed the turbines.
In the last 10 years wind power prices onshore and offshore have decreased, with onshore peaking in 2017. Offshore wind first came around in 2018 and prices have been falling ever since. Around 15% of the UKs electricity currently comes from Wind power which has made it possible for the UK to contemplate a zero-carbon future, with the government committing to 2050.
In the past two years, the cost of large-scale renewables had halved, with Britain going just over a week without using electricity generated from burning coal since the 1880’s.
HOW THE UK’S ENERGY GENERATION HAS CHANGED (1990-2018):
When looking at 1990 to 2018, the UK has lowered its carbon emissions. In 2018 natural gas was the largest used source with oil coming in at the lowest, interestingly wind and solar was on par with coal. Compared to 1990, coal was the largest by far with natural gas being the second highest.
A NUCLEAR AGE?
Cornwall could not seem more remote from the epic scale of construction activity at Hinkley in Somerset. Hinkley is the biggest current construction project in Europe, with 4,000 workers on site which is expected to grow to 25,000. Hinkley is in fact much older technology than Edwards fields in Cornwall.
In 2008 the UK government announced the dawn of a new nuclear age, in 2010 identifying 8 sites suitable for future nuclear power stations, including Hinkley. There is a need for a reliable source to run alongside wind power, this could be Hinkley. If commissioned in 2025 Hinkley C point alone will produce 7% of the UK’s current requirements.
The UK built 19 nuclear stations from 1956 onwards which currently contributes to 20% of the UK’s electricity – these old stations are due to be phased out by 2035.
One thing on which everyone agrees is that decarbonising the power supply will need a mix of technologies. Wind, solar, biomass, nuclear, hydro will all play a part – included in this is power storage and a smarter energy grid that matches demand and supply more efficiently.
THE NEXT STEP:
Many would be surprised to learn that the biggest consumers of energy are ourselves, heating and driving short distances. In 2017 there was the following results;
- Transport 40%
- Domestic 29%
- Industry 16%
- Other 15%
Will electric cars help the climate rescue?
In August 2019 sales of EV’s (electric and hybrid), increased fivefold compared with 2018 and in the last 5 years EV car sales have increased from 20,000 to 200,000. Alongside this the government have announced the intention to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. However electric cars still only make up 1% of vehicles on the road, along with rising CO2 emissions.
The hardest part of getting to zero emissions is the mass installation of central heating in UK homes, which is accountable for the largest single use of energy in the UK – 85% of these homes with central heating are connected to the gas grid. It is looking likely that £500bn will go to refitting domestic heating in order to get to net zero. Council and social housing can be changed under government initiatives, however persuading owners to change their gas central heating may be a challenge.
Hydrogen is seen as a suitable substitute due to its only by-product being water, the Committee on Climate change (CCC) is less positive stating that we have not yet done any large trials for heat pumps or hydrogen.
To get to zero by 2050 we will require significant changes to transport and heating systems, as well as seeing effects on what we eat, what we buy, how we travel and how we heat our homes.
In conclusion decarbonising the electricity supply can be done with a mix of renewables, with the biggest challenge being decarbonising domestic heating. The task is daunting but not impossible. Global co2 emissions have continued to rise even after 30 years of low emission targets in the west, going from just over 300 parts per million in 1959 to just over 400 parts per million in 2018. The UK is responsible for just over 1% of global emissions, so why are we bothering? Due to the UK profiting over the years from emitting CO2 we have a moral responsibility to do so – states Baroness Brown. The UK has proved to other countries it’s possible to grow your economy at the same time as reducing emissions and therefore lead by example. https://www.energymanagementltd.com/