Sun, sea, and coal: which energy source is the most reliable?
With an increased demand for energy comes a need to source it, the energy supplied must be reliable and dependable to cope with an influx of new needs. There are many different energy sources, from coal to solar power, but which is the most reliable? UK energy supplier Flogas, have investigated the various ways this energy could be generated, and which seems to be the best option for stability.
As the UK's population rises, so too does the requirement for energy. On top of that, our technology is becoming more advanced, and is often developed to replace traditional, manual methods. This in turn creates a higher demand for energy. So much so that, between 2005 and 2030, energy consumption in the UK is expected to increase by a huge 50%.
Nuclear power is another source of energy that the UK relied heavily on. In June 2017, it was reported that it accounted for 23.2% of energy generated in the UK. This source of energy is also reliable as it can provide power whenever it is needed. It does not emit carbon dioxide but can be harmful if there are any accidents on site.
Fossil fuels have long been a popular choice of energy in the UK. Comprised of natural gas and coal, fossil fuels are a reliable source of energy for both homes and businesses, and has been for many years. But what makes fossil fuels so desirable and stable in terms of energy production?
Well, according to Conserve Energy Future, the benefits of fossil fuels go beyond just the generation of power. Fossil fuels are, by their nature, cheap. The main expense comes in extracting and refining the material, but the return investment more than makes up for that cost. Plus, with the development of modern technology, extracting fossil fuels is now often more cost-effective than building wind technology for energy generation.
Another bonus is that it is safe to transport. Where other forms of energy, such a nuclear, prove a risky process to move, coal has no rouble being thrown onto a big van and trundled down the road. Fossil fuels are also very easy to store safely too.
But the main point in favour of fossil fuel's reliability is that it isn't dictated by the weather. Unlike solar or wind energy, fossil fuels will provide energy whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, or not.
Last year, three major coal power stations were closed down. As a result, coal energy generation dropped radically from 22.6% to a measly 9.2%. Now, coal energy supply is at its lowest output in 80 years. Despite this reduction of reliance in coal energy, it does remain theoretically the one of the more reliable fuel sources.
Natural gas provides a reliable form of energy, as it is able to provide power essentially on demand. Much like coal, if the demand increases, it is easy enough to increase the energy output of a gas fired power station. In fact, following the fall of coal generated energy as previously outlined, the presence of gas fired power stations increased by 45% during 2015 and 2016. The Guardian also reported how, in 2018, the UK was successfully powered without coal at all for three days in a row. Natural gas was cited as the biggest provider of energy in coal's absence, picking up nearly a third of the demand for electricity. The rest came from windfarm and nuclear energy sources.
Gas is also a highly versatile form of energy, as it can address various energy requirements both domestically and commercially. It can be used for cooking, heating, drying, as a generator of electric power, as fuel for vehicles, to produce plastics, and much more.
Gas is also a highly available substance for the world, with many countries able to extract it by the method of drilling.
Across the globe, more and more countries are looking to renewable energy sources. In fact, lots of countries are investing heavy sums into renewable technologies, like wind farms and solar panels. However, there is also a growing concern that renewable energy sources cannot be relied upon completely.
Is this true? The argument for reliability in renewable sources was presented by the USC (Union of Concerned Scientists), who noted that while the wind may not always blow everywhere, it is usually blowing somewhere on the planet. Therefore, multiple wind farms would address the issue of reliability in wind generated energy, as it is highly improbable that there would be no wind blowing on the entire planet at any one point.
Plus, where coal and gas energy suppliers can increase their use of coal and gas to meet the precise demand of energy at any point, accurate weather forecasts were cited by the website as a means to adjust other electricity source dependence to suit the weather forecast's effects on wind and solar power generation. Other suggested sources are hydroelectric and natural gas plants.
Wind farms do not just rely on the idea of the wind blowing, regardless of the fact that there is likely somewhere in the world with a wind blowing at any time. They also rely on the strength of the wind to produce a large amount of power. But the problem does not seem to be causing a notable effect, as wind power was revealed to have produced more electric power in the UK in 2016 than coal power plants did. It also beat solar power in terms of electricity generated.
Like wind farms, solar power is becoming more and more popular across the world as an energy source. Currently, the UK is leading in Europe with the growth of solar energy produced. In the entirety of Europe, solar provides 4% of all electricity demand. However, following the UKs government’s decision to cut incentives for householders to fit solar panel and for solar farms to be built, the amount of solar power installed in 2016 fell by around 50% compared to the year before.
But, much like wind power, solar power cannot be classed as a fully reliable source of energy. This is because the technology relies not only on the availability of sunlight, but on the intensity of sunlight, to provide power. Arguably, this is the same issue as wind power requiring a decent gust to operate, and the same counter argument can be posited, that it is very unlikely that the sun is not shining somewhere in the world at any given moment, and a high amount of solar panels across the world would compensate for this.
From this study of various energy sources, it can be concluded that natural gas comes out on top as the most reliable form of energy currently available. This is thanks to its reliability in all weathers, accessibility around the world, and resilience. Although renewable energy is on the rise, it is not always able to provide power and this can be problematic in some situations.