Renewable energy is, as it sounds, energy that is produced from an inexhaustible or replaceable source, unlike coal, oil or gas.
In order to improve the sustainability of NI's future energy system a shift is required from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
The Governments Obligation on Renewable Energy
The UK Government is committed to achieving 20 per cent of electricity supplies from renewable sources in 2020. In Northern Ireland the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment which has responsibility for energy is also taking steps to meet this target. One of the ways in which they hope to do this is to encourage householders in NI to install renewable technologies in their homes. The Reconnect programme was set up in 2006 and ran to March 2008 giving grants to help householders with the cost of installing renewable sources of energy. Householders can still get grants for installing renewables through the Low Carbon Buildings initiative: www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk
What are the sources of renewable energy?
Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP)
GSHPs extract heat from the ground and pump it into a building to provide space heating and to pre-heat hot water. In summer months this process can be reversed to cool the building.
Hydro Electric Schemes
Hydroelectricity is one of the oldest methods of generating renewable energy. Hydroelectricity converts potential energy stored in water, at a height, into kinetic energy to turn a turbine and produce electricity.
Solar Photovoltaics (PV)
The word photovoltaic means electricity from light. A PV cell is a small energy conversion system that converts the sun’s energy directly into electricity by generating an electrical current across two or more layers of silicon.
Solar Water Heating (SWH)
SWH systems use a roof mounted solar collector to gather solar radiation to produce heat that is normally used for heating domestic water.
Biomass and Anaerbic Digestion
Dry plant materials or wet animal wastes are often referred to as biomass. The most common biomass resource in NI is wood.
Wind is considered one of the most promising renewable energy resources for electricity generation. Northern Ireland has some of the best wind profiles in Europe and is well suited to wind development.
‘Marine energy’ is a term used to describe all forms of renewable energy derived from the sea.
- Tidal energy occurs due to large movements of water in the sea. As tides come in and out (flow and ebb), water near the coast is raised and lowered and the potential energy of this tidal range can be used. It is also possible to harness the kinetic energy of the moving water in the tidal stream itself.
- Wave energy occurs due to movements of water near the surface of the sea. Waves are formed by wind blowing over the water surface, which makes the water particles adopt circular motions. This motion carries kinetic energy, the amount of which is determined by the speed and duration of the wind, the length of sea it blows over, the water depth, sea bed conditions and also interactions with the tides.
Wave-based devices generate electricity from movements of the sea surface, whereas tidal stream installations sit on the sea floor and use the movement of the tides as they come in and out.
SeaGen - Tidal energy
The world’s first deep-water device to generate electricity from the tides on a commercial scale has just been installed in Strangford Lough. The SeaGen Tidal System at Strangford Lough in Co Down, Northern Ireland, is designed to produce enough electricity to supply 1,000 homes. Strangford Lough is one of the best locations to put the tidal system into due to the speed and power of the tidal system there.
A seagoing crane barge lowered the 1,000-tonne double turbine into place and it was fixed into the seabed with 12 metre (40 ft) pins.
The system, made by Marine Current Turbines (MCT) and assembled at the Harland and Wolff dockyard in Belfast, has two 16m blades which will be turned by the water streaming in and out of Strangford Lough at a speed up to 8 knots.
The SeaGen is a revolutionary new device and will be closely monitored over the course of time to see its success and the effects it has on the surrounding Lough.
Domestic combined heat and power (d-CHP)
d-CHP provides a very efficient way of generating heat and power at the same time: while the unit heats the home like a normal gas boiler, it also generates electricity (approximately 1kW).
Current Suppliers of Green Energy
Green tariffs provide the easiest way to support renewable energy. They operate by making the electricity supply company obtain an amount equal to the total amount of electricity used from existing renewable energy sources, meaning that correspondingly fewer units will be produced from fossil fuels. There is no change in the way electricity is supplied and costs exactly the same as normal domestic tariffs.
Consider switching to an energy supplier who sources power from renewable sources (for example NIE Eco Energy at no additional cost. Tel: 08457 455 455.
Ask your parents if they would be willing to switch to NIE’s EcoEnergy at no extra cost.
Currently Business Customers have a larger choice of suppliers who can provide “green electricity”. Companies such as Airtricity, Energia, ESB and NIE. Business users supplying their premises with a renewable electricity tariff are exempt from paying the Climate Change Levy.
Nuclear energy & security of supply
The Government’s 2006 Energy Review returned nuclear power to the headlines. Nuclear energy supplies 16 per cent of the world’s electricity. There are currently 436 commercial nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries, with a further 29 under construction. Nuclear energy currently accounts for approximately 20 per cent of the UK’s electricity production. By 2023 this figure will have fallen to as 18 of the 19 current nuclear power plants will be retired.
No nuclear power plants are planned to be constructed in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland has a no nuclear stance.
Radioactive waste is one of the biggest problems faced by the nuclear industry. Spent nuclear fuel is highly radioactive, but can be reprocessed to extract the remaining usable uranium and plutonium, a process which reduces the need to mine fresh uranium and cuts the volume of waste.
- A balanced energy mix will reduce the UK’s dependency on imported fuels and protect against the risk of supply interruptions.
- Nuclear is a virtually carbon dioxide free source of energy, making it a valuable contributor in the battle against climate change.
- Radioactive material produces vastly more energy than the equivalent amount of fossil fuel. For example one nuclear fuel pellet about two centimetres long produces the same amount of electricity as one and a half tonnes of coal.
- The nuclear industry plays a key role in the UK economy. Today the nuclear industry directly employs 40,000 people in the UK.
- Mining uranium has not traditionally been very clean.
- Waste from the power plants is toxic for many centuries and there is no safe way to store it permanently or dispose of it.
- Power plants that are not constructed or maintained properly can create major disasters (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island).
- Transporting nuclear fuel can be dangerous.