With rising energy prices and many households worried about the cost of energy, could clean energy provide a sustainable solution to further hikes?
Energy is needed for, well, pretty much everything. It powers our machines and electronic devices, it heats our homes and cooks our food. Energy is key to modern life.
Unlike fossil fuels, clean energy is energy which has been generated in a way that is non-polluting. This means there are no unwanted byproducts, such as carbon emissions, or other pollutants released into the environment. Clean energy sources include wind, solar, hydro, tidal, wave and geothermal energy.
Natural perpetual motion like wind or water can be harnessed to create energy effectively. Hydrogen fuel, which combusts to produce water, and solar energy which can provide electricity by converting sunlight into energy are also two common forms of clean energy.
Clean energy is slightly different from renewable energy which is energy produced from an infinite source unlike traditional ways of producing energy through fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Nuclear energy, for example, depends on a natural resource but produces radioactive material which can be harmful.
Why do we need to be using more clean energy sources?
Fossil fuels are the largest contributor to global climate change as identified by the United Nations. In fact, they account for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.
Not only that, but fossil fuels are a finite source made from decomposing plants and animals. New coal, oil, and natural gas deposits can take millions of years. This means fossil fuel prices will rise as they become more scarce and use of the fuel is reliant on global trade. We have already seen how recent geopolitical events, including the war in Ukraine, can make prices soar.
Alternatively, clean energy sources, although dependent on other factors such as sun, wind strength and geothermal proximity can be utilised within countries, reducing energy dependance and protecting our planet.
What can the government and other stakeholders do to encourage the use of Clean Energy?
All sectors need to shift their mindset to tackle the environmental, social and economic impact of climate change. Businesses have major influence when it comes to meaningful change. The globe scan survey highlights those leading the charge. Top names include Unilever, Patagonia and IKEA. These companies have made sustainability part of their global business model, setting ambitious targets with a clear sustainability strategy or plan.
IKEA, for example, has a sustainability strategy which details ambitions to become circular and climate positive and regenerate resources. As part of this, IKEA has invested heavily in renewable energy and improved energy efficiency striving for 100% renewable energy across the whole value chain by 2030.
UN Sustainable Development Goals
Signing up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint to achieve a sustainable future, is a great way companies can mobilise change in their ways of working. Goal number 7 is to use affordable and clean energy. Key to reducing their emissions, companies should look at the energy used to transport and manufacture their goods, power their offices and shops, and promote on and off-site renewable energy generation.
Most experts agree, a global network working together is essential for effective carbon reduction. The Secretary General for the United Nations posits that to speed up the shift to renewable energy, we need to remove roadblocks to knowledge sharing and technological transfer, including intellectual property rights barriers. Not only that, he argues, but we need to improve global access to competent and raw materials to create wind turbines, electric networks and electric vehicles.
The UK is doing some exciting work in the renewable market and has funding pots allocated for innovation in this space. However, more could be done to connect with the global market. Other countries have had some success with greater incentivisation when it comes to renewables.
Germany’s, first in Europe, feed-in-tariff (EEG) programme has increased the market share of renewable energy to great success. Production of electricity from renewable sources in Germany was only 6.2% in 2000, increasing to 23.7% by 2012 and up to about 28 % in 2014. The programme was a policy mechanism designed to accelerate renewable energy investment by providing remuneration to energy providers above the retail or wholesale rates of electricity.
This provided the providers long term security when investing in technologies such as wind power, solar PV and tidal power. The initial stimulus helped the renewable energy industry to become so cost-competitive that despite recent drops in feed-in tariff levels the market remains largely unaffected.
Transitioning from fossil fuels by investing in more hydroelectric power stations, wind farms and solar energy infrastructure is the largest thing the government can do to reduce the effects of climate change.
There are costs and technical challenges in running a country run on 100% clean energy. Despite the initial set up costs for running solar and wind farms, Michael Grubb (UCL Bartlett School of Environment, Energy & Resources) argues that they are more efficient in the long run as they cost far less than fossil fuels to run.
To do this, there are several more tactics that need to be in place. The Secretary General for the United Nations recommends putting in efficient, streamlined policies, regulatory procedures and planning in place such as Renewable Energy Zones. This will ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support widespread use of renewables.
Other recommended government action includes methods such as phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and implementing on-site renewable energy projects
The question of nuclear
However, just because an energy source is renewable doesn’t mean it’s without controversy. Nuclear energy has been a tricky topic for many.
Nuclear energy comes from the binding energy store in an atom holding it together. To release this energy, the atom is split into smaller atoms through a process called fission. The heat caused by fission is used to boil water into steam which fuels a turbine that generates electricity.
Radiative material, which can be extremely hazardous, is an off-product of this process. Nuclear is low-carbon, reliant on an abundant natural resource and has low ongoing costs. Some energy suppliers, such as EDF, believe the pros of nuclear outweigh the cons. However, the effects of radiation can be catastrophic.
There have been several incidents of Nuclear Power Plant releasing radioactive material and chemical explosions, the most recent being the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in March 2011 and the most famous being the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Radioactive material has shown to have harmful effects to health such as giving rise to cancer. Radioactive waste stays active for long periods of time which presents issues with safe storage. However, Nuclear energy providers are under strict and stringent safety protocols which some believe mitigates this risk.
What can the average household do to reduce reliance on fossil fuels?
Many suppliers offer ‘green tariffs’ which promise to supply you with energy from renewable sources. These tariffs are a good way to tell the industry that supporting renewable energy is important to you and shows energy providers the demand for renewable energy. Some tariffs will be 100% renewable and others will offer a percentage of the total. It is worth reading the fine print to understand what the provider classifies as green.
The greenest tariffs identified by the energy saving trust are: Good Energy, GEUK and Ecotricity.
The Green Tariff is not always the cheapest tariff. To compare energy providers, use a price comparison website such as those recommended by Ofgem, including: Money Supermarket, Simply Switch, or Uswitch.
The Energy Saving’s Trust can provide advice on switching your energy tariff.
Households can also push towards cleaner energy by speaking to your local MP about green energy, supporting green initiatives, or, if you have the right conditions for it, investing in solar panels for your home. The energy saving trust has a good guide on whether solar panels are right for you.
In summary, much needs to be done to ensure the move to clean energy sources to hit our green targets of carbon reduction. However, clean energy offers future-proofing for the global energy market to reduce price hikes and protect the long-term health of our planet.