Will renewable energy meet future demands? 

As the UK’s population grows, so does our need for energy. It’s estimated that by 2040, the global demand for electricity will increase by over 60%

But with concerns about climate change, understandably growing and limited fossil fuel resources available, renewable energy sources have become an increasingly popular solution to our energy needs. 

The question remains, will they be enough? Can they meet the growing demands of future generations? 

Before we investigate this problem, let’s have a look at the different forms of Renewable Energy.  

What is Renewable Energy? 

Renewable energy refers to the energy that has been generated using a sustainable source – something that can’t run out and can be naturally replenished. 

There are four main sources of renewable energy: 

1. Wind

Wind power is the largest producer of renewable energy in the UK. It is inexhaustible, and available almost everywhere. Onshore and offshore wind farms generate electricity by spinning the blades of wind turbines. The turbines convert the kinetic energy of the spinning blades into electric energy, which is fed into the national grid. 

2. Solar 

Solar power generates electricity by capturing sunlight on a solar panel in a joint chemical and physical reaction known as the photovoltaic effect (PV). Of course, the amount of energy that you can produce is dependent on the amount of sunlight that you get. 

3. Hydropower 

Hydroelectric power is a form of energy that harnesses the power of water in motion to generate electricity. Hydroelectric power plants are often found at dams, but hydroelectricity also encompasses wave and tidal power. Water is used to turn the blades of a turbine to generate electricity. 

4. Bioenergy

Electricity can be generated when organic matter is burned as a fuel source. Biomass fuels come from organic matter and include anything from plants to timber to food waste. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is emitted when bioenergy is made, but bioenergy is considered renewable because the fuel can be regrown and then tends to absorb as much carbon as it emits from being burned.

How has the use of renewable energy changed in the UK?

Each type of renewable energy above currently contributes to our electricity mix here in the UK. This renewable energy is used alongside non-renewable energy types such as fossil fuels and nuclear energy. 

Our use of renewable energy has grown considerably over the last few decades. In 1991, renewable energy accounted for just 2% of all electrical generation in the UK, but by 2013 it had risen to 14.6%

By 2019, zero-carbon electricity production overtook fossil fuels for the first time meaning 2020 was the UK’s highest year on record for renewable energy generation so far. Renewables made up 43.1% of the electricity mix in total. 

In 2022, wind power contributed 26.8% of the UK’s total electricity generation; biomass energy contributed 5.2%; solar power contributed 4.4% and hydropower contributed 1.8%. The last quarter of the year saw the largest proportion of energy created from renewable energy so far, with 50% of our electricity coming from renewable sources in October, November and December. 

Looking ahead 

The UK Government is committed to eliminating fossil fuels from our electricity generation by 2035. As such, there is a huge amount of money being spent on building infrastructure for renewable energy production in the UK. Wind power, in particular, is being touted as a significant source of energy in the future. There are currently about 11,500 wind turbines in the UK. About 2.5K of them are housed offshore.

A recent study by Offshore Energies UK estimated that although enough wind turbines are being built to meet the Government’s commitment eventually, many of the projects are only at the concept stage, and this will mean that the 2035 deadline will not be met. 

The Government has made promises that it will aim to speed up the development of offshore wind farms. 

Is Renewable Energy our only answer?

It needs to be said as well, that Renewable Energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric and bioenergy) is not the only source of “clean” energy that the Government is investing in order to meet energy requirements in the future. 

The Government has invested £385 million in the Advanced Nuclear Fund (ANF) to support SMRs and AMR development, and it will be interesting to watch how these types of projects impact energy provision for heavy industry. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs) are the next stages in the development of nuclear energy technology. The Government believes that nuclear power will provide 25% of the projected electricity demand by 2050. 

So, although Renewable Energy will form an enormous part of our future energy supply, it is clear that we will not be solely dependent on it. 

What will the future look like?

So where does this leave us? In short, the future of renewable energy is bright. There is no doubt that Renewable energy sources are the future. We certainly have the opportunity to increase electricity production so that we can meet the needs of the country. But the pace of development at the moment means that targets may not be reached by the dates originally proposed by the Government. However, there still is time to speed up production. It remains to be seen whether it happens or not. 

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