Renewable energy in a modern city

Can Renewable Energy Meet Future Demands?

The future of renewable energy is fast becoming a reality for residences and businesses alike. However, our demands for energy are high, and green energy sources need to be able to keep up.

Renewable Energy Now

The UK is moving towards a greener world as the Government aims to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. This is a huge undertaking that requires fast and effective carbon reductions by introducing green alternatives to power.

To reach this goal, the UK government has announced measures to phase out sources of carbon emissions: banning the sale of petrol/diesel cars from 2030, banning gas/combi boilers from being installed in new houses from 2025, and offering various incentives and grants on electric vehicles, air source heat pumps, green energy installations, and solar panels. This leaves behind conventional fossil fuel methods of creating power.

It is vital to find sustainable green alternatives for transport, residential heating, and electricity in general to combat the effects of climate change. Here’s everything you need to know about just how sustainable renewable energy is and whether it can meet future demands for powering the modern world.

Transport

Cost

The Government is set to phase out petrol/diesel vehicles altogether from 2030 (and hybrids by 2035), leaving electric vehicles as the only option for personal transport. Although the Government does offer grants of up to £3,000 for the purchase of a low-emissions vehicle, the cheapest electric vehicles currently on sale cost from around £30,000, which is not affordable for a lot of the population.

There is also the matter of charging electrical vehicles. Home-charging units are becoming more popular and the Electric Vehicle Home Charge Scheme offers up to £350 towards the cost and installation of an EV home-charger. A full home-charge costs about £8.40 (14p per kWh) whilst public charge points are typically free to use, so certain costs can be offset by Government schemes.

Sustainability

Around 36% of homes in the UK don’t have off-street parking, so home-charging is not an option for many people. This means that public charging points will have to become more widespread.

The Government has realised this in recent years, and there are now over 30,000 charging points across the UK in over 11,000 locations – that means there are now more public charging places than petrol stations. 10,000 of these were added in 2019 alone, showing the Government’s action plan to improve electric vehicle infrastructure.

There is also the matter of whether the UK has the capacity to produce enough electricity for the nation’s electric vehicle demands. In short, the National Grid has enough energy in its system to support a nation of electrical vehicles but is unable to cope with charging them all simultaneously. This would be a problem if all electric vehicles were charged in the evenings, for example. However, new technological advancements in dynamic load balancing will allow the electric vehicle charging network to have a smaller impact on the National Grid.

Heating

Cost

Air source heat pumps are the green alternative to traditional gas/combi/electric boilers (read more here). They convert outside air into central heating and hot water, even when outside temperatures are as low as –25°C. They save a lot on fuel bills, especially in comparison to electric boilers, as they can have efficiencies up to 400%.

Installation costs can range anywhere from £8,000-£18,000 but the UK Government offers a Green Homes Grant of up to £5,000 (£10,000 for low-income households) towards the cost and installation of heat pumps – this can also contribute towards improving home insulation to get the most out of your Air Source Heat Pump. The government also offers an annual Renewable Heat Incentive of £1,302 for a 2-3 bedroom house, so homeowners eventually earn money from their Air Source Heat Pump.

Sustainability

As previously mentioned, the Green Homes Grant is available to help with the initial high cost of installation and preparation of your home, but this is only available for the first 600,000 applicants, so you should apply ASAP.

Otherwise, Air Source Heat Pumps are completely sustainable as they use outside air as their heat source. Unless some cataclysmic ecological event happens, we have enough energy in the air to provide renewable heating for all households in the UK and around the world.

Solar Panels

Cost

There are not as many grants available for solar panel funding as the overall cost of solar panels has decreased considerably over the past few years. This is, in part, due to the development of microinverters, which electrically isolate solar modules and therefore increase the efficiency and lower the running costs of solar power.

However, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) allows small-scale low-carbon electricity generators to receive payments for the surplus energy they export back to the grid. All licensed suppliers must offer an export tariff to customers and all homeowners with solar panel systems up to 5MW capacity are eligible.

Although solar panels have a high upfront cost, they can save you around £270 on electricity bills annually.

Sustainability

The physical production of solar panels is not the cleanest process. Making the panels requires caustic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and the process uses water and electricity, which emits greenhouse gases as well as creating physical waste.

Recycling old solar panels is definitely a sustainable option but this presents a Catch-22 situation: there aren’t enough places to recycle old panels, and there currently isn’t a high-enough volume of defunct solar panels to make recycling them economically attractive.

In terms of producing power in a residential setting, solar panels typically have a lifespan of 25-30 years so recycling could be a more viable option in the future, and the panels last long enough for them to be worth the initial high cost.

Microinverters also provide the option for homeowners to initially invest in a few solar panels for low-electricity needs such as charging phones and laptops, with the potential for expansion. Solar panels can offer flexibility and are, overall, an effective green alternative to fossil fuel power sources.

Solar panels on house roof

Credit: Michael Hardy

Conclusion

In summary, the UK has high ambitions in its response to climate change, this is highlighted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent Ten-Point Plan. Whilst there are currently a couple of issues in terms of strain on the National Grid, high upfront costs, and the creation of physical waste, these problems will be offset as renewable sources of energy receive more investment and become more widespread. If the Government continues to develop green technologies, renewable energy should be able to meet future demands.

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