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Energy conservation is all about altering our behaviour in such a way that we become less wasteful with our resources. However, equally important issues to consider are the origins of our fuel and the subsequent energy we use in our everyday lives. Where does it all come from? How long will the resources last? What kind of damage do we cause by extracting them and using them? Can they be replaced by some other type of resource? These are just a few questions worth considering when we turn the kettle or the light switch on.  

There are two groups of fuel source: fossil fuels and renewable source of energy.  

Fossil fuels: There are three main fossil fuels, coal, natural gas and oil. Fossil fuels originate from ancient fossilized organic materials such as decayed plants or algae but as they has taken millions of years to form they are classified as a mineral and not organic.  

Coal: By the end of 2016 the UK mined only about 1 million tonnes of coal,  99 per cent of which was from surface mining. This is significantly less than the 225 million tonnes a year which were mined in the mid 1950’s. Coal produces around 10% of electricity in the UK but many old coal fired power stations have closed in the last few years and any new ones will need to meet tough emission standards.   

Natural Gas: In the 1990’s there was a dramatic increase in the use of natural gas to produce electricity partly due to new efficient Combined Cycle Gas Turbine Generators and also the increase in the production of gas in the UK from the North Sea. Natural Gas now accounts for around 43% of electricity generation.   

Oil:  Very little electricity is now produced from oil with transport using a vast majority of the oil used in the UK.

Nuclear Energy:  Currently around 25% of UK electricity is generated from nuclear. The Government promote nuclear as a low carbon, affordable, dependable and safe. Low carbon electricity generation is important in the fight to prevent climate change but some people are still worried about the pollution problems associated with the energy production and waste storage. The World Nuclear Association and the Nuclear Industry Association provide information of the state and evolution of nuclear power industry in the UK.  

Solar Energy

The amount of solar radiation received at the earth's surface depends on geographical location as well as local conditions such as cloudiness and turbidity and will vary according to the season and time of day. Useful solar radiation sources are either direct radiation, scattered radiation or radiation that is reflected from various surfaces. The solar radiation can be converted into electricity by photovoltaics (PV) or into hot water using solar water heating.  

The PV installed capacity in the UK increased from 10.9 MW in 2005 to over 11,000 MW by the end of 2016. This increase was supported through a system of Feed-In Tariffs  introduced in April 2010, which provide householders and communities generating their own electricity with regular payments through their energy supplier.   Solar energy is absorbed by the ground and remains fairly constant the deeper you go. This heat can be harnessed by the use of ground source heat pump and is encouraged by the Government through a renewable heat incentive payment.

Wind Energy and Biomass

Renewable energy fuel use has increased in recent years from around 10% of electricity generation in the UK in 2011 to 25% in 2016.  

Biomass energy includes sources such as landfill or sewerage gas, wood, waste combustion or plant biomass. Biomass can be used in wood burning stoves, biomass combine heat and power or a biomass boiler. The production of biomass, especially energy crops, has been criticized for the taking over of useful agriculture land and producing crops for other than food production.  

Wind now accounts for around 11% of electricity generation.  It is a renewable source dependent on solar energy. Global winds are caused by differential heating over the earth’s surface, which sets up pressure gradients that leads to a flow of air. This flow of air can be converted to a useful form of energy using wind turbines. Some important factors to remember are that while doubling wind speed increases the power generated by a wind turbine eightfold, doubling the size of the wind turbines only doubles the power. Modern, large, electricity generating turbines are designed to reach maximum output at a wind speed of between 10-15 m/s. Disturbances and turbulence can affect energy output as turbines work best at constant fixed wind speed. Wind turbines start operating at wind speeds of around 5m/s and at wind speeds over 25m/s wind turbines shut down. Although available for urban areas, roof mounted turbines perform best in remote areas with consistent, undisturbed wind.   Other sources of renewable energy fuel use include hydro power and geothermal power.

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