Quick Fire Science: Renewable Energy

05 December 2013
Posted by Dave Ansell.

The UK government has this week announced changes to its subsidies for renewable energy generation. But how much energy does the UK generate using renewables? Here's your quickfire science on renewable energy with Dominic Ford and Dave Ansell.

- Before the industrial revolution all energy was renewable, plants, wind, water and animal power all coming originally from the sun.

- But the burning of fossil fuels allowed our society to access far more energy. Despite this many of the early electrification projects were renewable.

- In 1878 the world's first hydroelectric power scheme was developed at Cragside in Northumberland, and the first wind generator was built in 1887 in Scotland

- But after this fossil-fuelled power generation grew far faster, so that today hydro-power is only 6.5% of US energy generation.

- Since the late 1990's there has been a renaissance of renewable power.

- In the whole of the 1990s, about 250MW of wind turbine capacity was built. But in 2012 alone, nearly 8000MW of wind turbine generating capacity was installed.

- Today, 7.5% of the UK's electricity is generated by wind - a figure that is rapidly rising.

- In recent years, solar power generation has grown even faster. In 2012, 600MW of generating capacity were installed, compared to only 5MW three years earlier. However, this is still only about 0.4% of total energy generation.

- Germany has seen a much larger growth, and today is generates over 25% of its power using renewables.

- The price of solar panels has dropped by 50-60% in the last 2 years.

- In countries sunnier than the UK the cost of electricity from solar panels is rapidly approaching the cost of buying electricity from the grid, so it may soon pay to install them, even without subsidies.

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