The UK's energy challenge

Updated: Sep 30, 2019


How do we power our modern lives and save the planet? 


As we face an unprecedented climate crisis, there is a real need for clearer information and explanation of the facts about energy consumption and the urgency of action needed. 


In September 2019, the BBC published its Briefing on energy to explore the UK's energy challenges and it provides fascinating facts and figures. 


In response to this, here is our take on where we are now, the challenges we face, how we will meet our energy demands, and the changes we all need to be considering.


The challenges we face


Although our overall use of energy is declining, carbon fuels still provide the vast majority of our energy input at the point of use (around four-fifths).


Natural gas has become a major source of energy worldwide and in the UK is the second biggest source of energy after petrol and diesel. It’s a key source of heating and is used in industry. Our use of it has increased from zero in 1990 to 40% in 2018. Most of the natural gas we use comes from Norway and Qatar.


Transport is our most carbon dependent sector, followed by industrial and domestic heating, and we will require a shift change in the types of domestic heating systems we install in order to reduce our use of carbon fuels.


Households account for 29% of UK energy consumption, and this excludes our transport use! Overall, transport use accounts for 30% of use, with road use at 29% and rail just 1%. The question, and challenge is, can we make a massive change in our behaviour to get out of our cars to use more sustainable forms of transport?


Meeting our energy challenges in the coming years


Britain is unique in Europe, having no land borders and one of the longest coastline and is one of the top countries producing the greatest volume of wind power in the world.


Being an island race, our coastline is thousands of miles long and the current world leading maritime research taking place in the Orkney Islands is looking at all the ways we can effectively harness the vast amounts of tidal energy around our coast.


As Europe’s windiest nation, we also have an opportunity to harness more renewable energy than we could ever use. And, of course, the emergence of cost effective solar panels is adding to our renewable energy portfolio.


We also harness power from hydro-electric systems right across Scotland and

are just beginning to look closely at ground source heat pumps as well as bio-

mass generators.


With these exciting sources of renewable energy on our doorstep, the target

of a zero carbon footprint for our nation is achievable but it is not without

some serious challenges...


Energy storage


One of the biggest challenges is that of cost effective storage of the electricity

we manage to harness. Our country needs energy 24/7 but the sun doesn’t

shine at night and the wind doesn’t always blow. Luckily the tides always rise

and fall. Also, bio-mass and air source heat pumps are not weather dependent.


Much research into various methods of storing power are being carried out all

over the world and this includes the use of Hydrogen, large lithium batteries,

turbine reservoirs and compressed air storage chambers. There is even

research into entirely different types of battery including an exciting Sulphur

based model.


All of these projects bring us ever nearer to a power system based solely on

renewable energy but this is not the only challenge...


Insulation


We are living in a variety of often poorly insulated homes and working in equally poor factories, shops and offices. All of these buildings will have to undergo a massive programme of retrofit to make them a carbon neutral as possible and this will be an incredibly expensive and time and materials consuming task.


Transport


The vast majority of our road vehicles currently run on fossil fuels and converting them all to electric will be yet another challenge. Many car manufacturers are meeting this challenge and one has just launched a very affordable model which may see the move to electric growing very quickly.


All of the above challenges can and will be met, as long as we all understand just what is at stake if we fail.



About the BBC Briefing on Energy


Bombarded by often contradictory information about energy consumption and the urgency of our climate change goals, people are demanding better explanation of the facts so that they can take action and play their part in tackling the climate emergency we face.


With input from academics, researchers and journalists, the Briefing offers the context and evidence in one place.


Download a copy, or read it in your browser here

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