The world population is exponentially growing and with it, the global need for energy. In 2010, global energy consumption equated to approximately 1.7 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) per person. Consumption has been steadily growing for decades and will continue in parallel to population growth, most notably, for transport and heating, which particularly consume vast quantities of energy.
Currently, electricity production is dependent on market prices for fuel, and more importantly the UK does not have security of supply. It is estimated that 10% of the UK’s electricity needs, are currently imported.
With a quarter of the UK’s generating capacity coming to the end of its life over the next 10 years, as a nation we need to make strategic investments in our energy infrastructure that will be felt throughout the rest of the century.
The pie chart below shows the UK current generating capacity by % production by fossil fuel, nuclear fission, renewables (solar, wind) and hydroelectricity.
As we can see, fossil fuels provide the main provision for conversion to electricity primarily, due to economic favourability. Drawbacks to consider with fossil fuels are pollution from burning coal, gas and oil, mining and off shore drilling hazards, and also the national dependency on these sources from unstable countries in the far-east.
‘Renewables’ harness energy from their environment. Wind, solar, wave and tidal, for example, are driven by natural earth cycles. Unfortunately, these sources cannot be relied on to generate in the region of their maximum electricity output at all future times of high electricity need. This results in intermittency problems that put incredible strain upon the national grid.
Nuclear power is generated using Uranium, which is a metal mined in various parts of the world. Investigation and research has shown that the seriously an extremely reasonable provision really can be from nuclear if people are only willing to hear it [1, 2]. Unfortunately, the image of nuclear as a civil power source is blind-sided by people’s beliefs that it has the potential to cause mass devastation like that caused by the atom bombs, or even release radioactivity that has the potential to make people unwell or even genetically mutate! These worries are completely unfounded, and a sole product of propaganda by politicians and journalists.
The next step
Governments are turning to nuclear energy as a plausible form of energy because it is increasingly economic, reliable and environmentally friendly. The wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine, but nuclear energy can be produced regardless of the weather, which is why the nuclear industry is almost an essential part of the future of sustainable energy.
There is a global addiction to fossil fuels, but part of this addiction may be a fear to change. Incorporating nuclear energy can offset the environmental cost in terms of reduction of greenhouse emissions. Although the set up costs for nuclear plant tend to be higher to begin, with perhaps nuclear energy can have a positive impact in many different ways, looking at conflict provoked over the need for oil, problems of warming due to greenhouse gases, and the impact toxins have on health.
- For further reading on Energy Policy in the UK, Joan Pye Project also recommends the Fell’s Report ‘A Pragmatic Energy Policy for the UK’.
1) Towards a low-carbon pathway for the UK: Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, March 2012
2) ‘Sustainable Energy Without Hot Air’ – Professor David MacKay goes into great detail as to how each potential energy source could meet consumption in the UK.