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Natural, renewable clean energy is without a doubt the future of the energy industry, and as of Q1 2020 makes up the majority of our national energy fuel mix. Clean energy is the logical and infinitely renewable alternative to getting our energy from burning fossil fuels and further contributing to climate change and global warming. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about clean energy?
Last updated: August 2022
The green energy landscape has changed dramatically in the UK over the past 20 years. A combination of government initiatives and consumer demand have seen UK energy really clean up its act in recent years. Suppliers of all shapes and sizes have begun to offer something that was relatively unheard of a scant few decades ago.
What does clean energy mean?
The definition of clean energy is generating energy using natural processes that do not produce harmful emissions or use up finite natural resources. In Q1 of 2000, most of our energy came from burning coal and natural gas. In 2020, however, our use of coal to generate energy has shrunk down to a tiny 0.35 teraWatt hours (tWh) as of Q2 2020. We are still highly reliant on gas. However, gas is a much “cleaner burning” fuel than coal, resulting in fewer harmful emissions. Natural gas emits 50-60% less carbon emissions than coal when burned. Nonetheless, it is still a finite natural resource. As such, the energy industry in the UK is slowly moving away from burning natural gas and towards renewables.
What are common examples of clean energy?
Many of us use the terms “clean energy” and renewables interchangeably. However, not all clean energy sources are completely renewable, and not all renewable energy sources are completely clean. However, there are numerous methods of renewable energy generation that also satisfy the criteria for clean energy.
Here, we’ll look at some common forms of clean energy that are already hard at work powering homes and businesses all over the country.
While the UK isn’t known for its warm and sunny days, we’re still getting into solar energy in a big way. At the time of writing, we have 425 solar farms around the country, varying in size from 1-100 acres. These are usually found in rural and agricultural areas. Plants, trees and crops can even be planted around solar panels to maximise the usefulness and biodiversity of the surrounding land. The largest solar farm in the UK Shotwick Solar Park in Flintshire, North Wales. This site spans a massive 250 acres with a total capacity of 72.2 megawatts.
However, a goodly portion of our solar power comes not from energy farms but from households. Around one and a half million homes across the country use photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to power themselves without having to rely on energy from the grid. What’s more, surplus energy can be pumped back into the national grid. Energy companies pay for this energy via Feed in Tariffs or, most recently, the Smart Export Guarantee.
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When it comes to wind energy, the UK is something of a world leader… and that’s not just us blowing hot air! We have more installed offshore wind capacity than any other nation on the planet, with around 10% of our national energy fuel mix coming from wind power.
At the time of writing, there are currently 2,450 wind farm sites all over the country, including off-shore sites along our coastlines. These have a total of 10,420 wind turbines shared between them, with an operational capacity of over 24,000 Megawatts. Enough to power roughly 4.5 million homes.
Some of our biggest energy suppliers like Scottish Power and SSE generate their own energy via on and offshore wind farms. However, there are also homes and businesses all over the country that have installed domestic wind turbines to generate their own renewable energy.
Biomass energy accounts for 8.42 tWh of energy generated in the second quarter of 2020. This form of clean and renewable energy is generated by burning wood chips or pellets. This is an elegant solution to not only the problem of reliance on fossil fuels, but the problem of wood waste. According to The Green Age, the UK sends approximately 8.5 million tonnes of wood to landfills every year.
Although biomass is a highly renewable form of energy, it is not completely clean. Because it involves the burning of woodchips, it does result in some carbon emissions. However, these pale in comparison to the emissions generated from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.
While carbon emissions from biomass have increased in recent years, they pale in comparison to emissions from coal according to data from the Office for National Statistics. What’s more, because trees absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, this more than neutralises the carbon cost of biomass energy production.
Hydropower is the unsung hero of our nation’s clean energy mix. Yet it is the very definition of clean and renewable energy, leveraging the kinetic energy of our rivers and streams and turning it into electricity. Hydropower accounted for just over one tWh of our national energy fuel mix in Q2 of 2020. However, it is an extremely reliable form of renewable energy. And while it has a relatively small presence in the UK, it represents 20% of our global energy fuel mix and 90% of the world’s renewable energy.
Although we may generate much less hydroelectricity than China, Canada, Russia, Brazil and the USA, we do have the world’s first hydroelectric power machine, which was built in Northumberland in 1878.
There’s much debate as to whether or not nuclear power should be considered a clean source of energy. The spectre of nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima looms large in the collective consciousness, and can have a disproportionately negative impact on how we see this method of energy generation.
However, while nuclear power is not renewable (it uses finite materials like uranium), it does meet the criteria to be classified as a clean energy source as it does not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions. Nonetheless, the processes of mining and refining uranium for nuclear reactors requires large amounts of energy. Furthermore, while nuclear power plants have very little impact on the environment around them, the disposal of nuclear waste can have a lasting impact on the environment.
Which country uses the most clean energy?
We’re big fans of clean energy in the UK, with more investment in a renewable energy infrastructure to come. But which countries are the biggest clean energy users in the world?
The top 3 are as follows:
Iceland is currently the world’s largest producer and consumer of renewable energy, generating more electricity per person than any other country on the planet. A staggering 19 tWh is generated per year. That’s 55,000 kWh per person. By comparison, the EU average is 6,000 kWh per person.
Norway is close on Iceland’s heels, producing 98% of its energy from renewables. Most of Norway’s energy comes from hydropower has, although wind and geothermal energy are also major contributors to Norway’s national energy fuel mix.
70% of Kenya’s energy fuel mix comes from renewable sources. What’s more, the country aims to be 100% powered by green energy by 2050.
What about the UK?
Don’t worry, we’re no slouch in the clean energy department, either. In the second quarter of 2020, 44.6% of our national fuel mix came from renewables, with a further 7% coming from nuclear energy.
With our still-unbeaten track record for wind energy (most of which is generated in and around Scotland— the windiest country in Europe), we have impressive clean energy credentials. What’s more, there’s significant investment in wind energy underway. The Hornsea Project is currently awaiting completion at the end of 2020, and will add a further gigawatt to our current operational capacity.
Who are the UK’s clean energy providers?
When it comes to clean energy suppliers, UK consumers are spoilt for choice. Even larger energy suppliers whose energy fuel mix isn’t 100% clean still offer at least one completely renewable energy tariff.
In the table below, we’ll list some of our most popular clean energy suppliers, as well as listing their energy fuel mix:
|Energy Supplier||Energy Fuel Mix|
|Bulb||78% wind, 18% solar, 4% hydro|
|Octopus Energy||75.3% wind, 21% solar, 3.7% hydro|
|Good Energy||53.9% wind, 28.4% biomass, 13.4% solar, 4.3% hydro|
|Ecotricity||97.42% wind, 2.07% hydro, 0.51% solar|
|Green Energy UK||Solar, biomass, hydro and wind (percentages not disclosed)|
|Outfox The Market||100% wind energy|
Is clean energy more expensive?
Not at all! In fact, the cost of generating clean, renewable energy has plummeted in recent years. As such, wholesale clean energy costs are lower, and energy suppliers can pass those savings on to you. As such, it’s common now for energy suppliers to offer 100% renewable energy plans at no extra cost to the customer.
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Are there any cheap clean energy suppliers in the UK?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a common misconception that clean energy is more expensive. But while this may have been true years ago, the cost of generating renewable energy has never been lower. So it’s easier than ever to find an affordable clean energy deal.
Suppliers like Octopus Energy, Bulb, Outfox The Market and Green Energy all combine 100% renewable clean energy with some of the cheapest tariffs on the market.
Which is the cleanest form of energy?
Solar and wind energy are the cleanest forms of energy as they produce no carbon emissions, and their impact on their local environment is fairly minimal. As such, they are both clean *and* renewable energy sources.
Is nuclear energy clean energy?
Technically, yes. The generation of nuclear energy does not produce carbon emissions in the same way that burning gas, coal or oil does. In this regard it’s even cleaner than renewable biomass energy. However, the mining and processing of uranium for nuclear power plants is highly energy and resource intensive.
How much of our national energy fuel mix comes from clean energy?
As of the second quarter of 2020 (the most recent data from Ofgem), clean energy accounts for 44.6% of our national fuel mix. This increases to just under 52% if you include nuclear energy.
Updated on 8 Aug, 2022
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