The renewable energy industry has become an increasingly important part of the global economy and is often the focus of governmental initiatives to encourage growth to ensure that it becomes one of the main sources of energy in the future. Renewable energy allows for less reliance on fossil fuels and provides a sustainable way of meeting the world’s energy needs. While there has been considerable progress in renewable research, development and legislation there is still a long way to go. At present the United Kingdom is looking to generate 15% of its energy through renewable methods by 2020. (EU target is 20% by 2020)
To date many different methods of generating renewable and sustainable energy have been developed and the most dominant of those currently in use is wind power.
Harnessing the energy of the wind to create electricity is achieved through the use of wind turbines. Wind farms are set up to capture the full potential of the wind and can consist of tens to hundreds of individual turbines which are all hooked up to an electricity grid which enables energy distribution and purchase. Wind farms can be based both on and offshore and the UK is currently the 8th biggest supplier of wind energy in the world. There are more onshore than offshore wind farms in the UK due to it being relatively less expensive to install in comparison to offshore projects.
Offshore wind farms have the benefit of access to stronger and more frequent winds as it is free from common onshore obstructions which can cause turbulent wind. Due to the difficulties inherent in construction, they are three times more expensive to create than onshore wind farms.
Through the use of photovoltaics or concentrated solar power the energy of the sun can be harnessed and turned into electricity. Photovoltaics works by converting light into electricity through use of the photoelectric effect. Concentrated solar power is captured through the use of mirrors and lenses which focus large areas of sunlight into concentrated beams to convert light into electric current.
Solar power in the United Kingdom has a total installed generating capacity of 750MW (megawatts). The UK has an insolation of 120 W(th)/m˛ which is a very small amount in comparison with much hotter countries such as Spain. In 2008 a new programme was created to encourage homeowners in the UK to invest in solar power for their homes. Homeowners can be paid a tariff from the Government per kWh of energy that is generated on their property. This has seen the popularity of home solar power devices increase dramatically.