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A guide to renewable energy

A guide to renewable energy

Using renewable energy to power your home or business can help to reduce your carbon footprint and even cut your electricity bills. Learn more about renewable energy and start comparing green energy tariffs today.  

Peter Earl
From the Energy team
minute read
posted 30 JANUARY 2020

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is generated from a source that is naturally replenished. Energy produced from natural resources, like wind, water and sunlight, offers an environmentally friendly alternative to energy from fossil fuels, helping you lower your carbon footprint. 
These four types of renewable energy are already being used to power homes and businesses in the UK:  

  • Solar energy: using light energy from the sun to generate electricity and heat water 
  • Wind energy: using wind turbines to convert energy from wind pressure into electricity  
  • Wave and tidal stream energy: using moving water to spin a turbine, either in a dam or under the water, to produce a constant flow of electricity  
  • Bioenergy: using plant material or animal waste as a sustainable solution to burning fossil fuels. 

How does solar energy work? 

Sunlight is made up of tiny packets of energy called photons. Solar energy works by absorbing this energy and converting it into electricity that can be used to power your home or business.  
Solar panels use what’s called photovoltaic (PV) cells to absorb the sun’s energy. They turn the energy into direct current (DC) energy, which is converted into a usable alternating current (AC) that can be used to power most devices in your home. 

There are also solar thermal systems that are used to heat water. 
Residential solar panels are more than 50% cheaper now than they were in 2011. That makes them a great option for home and business owners, who want to generate their own power. 

How does wind energy work? 

Wind turbines can be used to convert energy from wind pressure into electricity. Huge propellers turn like a fan in the moving air, powering an electric generator to produce a current of usable electricity.  
Wind power has huge potential when it comes to green energy. Last year, the UK Government committed to invest £250 million into green energy production. That includes a new Offshore Wind Growth Partnership, which is expected to power more than 30% of British homes by 2030.

How does tidal energy work? 

Wave and tidal power is generated using large underwater turbines. These rotate with the ebbing and flowing of the moving water to create energy. The turbines are connected to electrical generators that turn this kinetic energy into electricity, which we can use.   
Tidal power is a cheap - and generally consistent - way of generating renewable power, with the potential to supply up to 20% of the UK’s current electricity needs.  

How is energy produced from biofuels? 

Biofuels can be made from many sources, from food waste to algae and sugarcane. They’re used as a low-carbon alternative to fossils fuels. Unlike carbon-based fuels like petrol and coal, biofuels are renewable and produce fewer greenhouse gases when burnt.  
One of the main uses for biofuels in the UK is as an alternative transport fuel. The Government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), introduced in 2008, encourages the transport sector to supply renewable fuels that meet sustainability standards.  

Is natural gas renewable? 

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, so although it’s naturally occurring, it’s not renewable. 

Even biomethane doesn’t produce energy that is 100% green, as all forms of natural gas produce at least small amounts of carbon dioxide.

How does nuclear energy work? 

Nuclear energy is generated by splitting uranium atoms in a process called fission. This produces heat used to turn water into steam, turning huge turbines and generating electricity in much the same way as a wind turbine.  
Nuclear power does not produce any carbon or other greenhouse gases, so it’s generally considered to be a clean source of energy. 

Is nuclear power a sustainable resource? 

Though considered a clean source of energy, there’s debate about whether the nuclear power can be called ‘sustainable’.  
The process of generating nuclear energy doesn’t produce carbon waste, but it does produce radioactive pollutants that can take decades – and sometimes thousands of years - to become safe enough to dispose of. Intensive clean-ups are necessary when decommissioning disused power plants. This means that today, nuclear power is viewed by many as an unsustainable source of energy. 

How much renewable energy is generated in the UK? 

Latest figures show that 11% of the UK’s available energy is generated from renewable sources.  
In 2018, renewable electricity represented 31% of the total electricity generated in the UK. That year, renewable heat increased to 7.3% and renewable transport fuels made up 6.2% of overall consumption. 
Bioenergy is the leading source of green power in the UK, accounting for two-thirds of our energy demands, while energy generated from wind power is responsible for 22% of our green energy.  
Under the EU Renewable Energy Directive, the UK’s target for production and consumption of green energy is set at 15% for 2020.  

What is a green energy provider? 

Energy providers offering green energy tariffs promise to supply energy that’s up to 100% renewable. This energy comes from a range of sources, including wind farms, solar panels and power stations specialising in biofuels.  
More and more providers are beginning to offer some form of green energy tariff. When comparing energy quotes with us, simply fill in a few details, including your postcode, energy requirements and email address. We’ll then email you a list of tariffs.  

Are green energy tariffs more expensive? 

Green energy tariffs are growing more competitive. Compare energy suppliers with Compare the Market today, to find a tariff that’s right for you.  

Can I generate my own renewable energy?  

Depending on space and subject to building permissions, you could generate your own renewable power using solar panels, or by investing in a home wind turbine. 
Solar panels are easy to install and require very little maintenance, making them the ideal low-impact solution for homeowners and businesses. While solar panels aren’t cheap, they may help you save money in the long run, cutting your energy bills and reducing your dependence on the National Grid. 
Installing a wind turbine is a bigger commitment. Not only are they more expensive to install, but you’ll need a lot more space and extra money for ongoing maintenance. However, wind turbines generate more electricity, with a single turbine capable of generating enough power to supply multiple homes. 

Can I make money by generating my own energy? 

The Government’s Feed-in tariff scheme allowed households and businesses to earn money back on the energy they generated, as well as selling any excess energy, feeding it into the National Grid. The feed-in tariff scheme is now closed to new applicants, with some exceptions.  

The Smart Export Guarantee, introduced on 1 January 2020, works in a similar way. It can offer payments to people who are generating their own energy through solar, wind, water, micro-combined heat and power, and anaerobic digestion. The latter is a type of bioenergy that turns plant material into gas.  

Finding a renewable energy provider  

It’s always a good idea to shop around when searching for the right energy provider. Comparing prices and types of tariff, including those from green energy sources, is the best way to help you find a supplier that’s right for you.  
Switching energy providers is easy to do, with a seamless transition period, so you shouldn’t have a gap in your energy supply.  
Start comparing cheaper energy tariffs with Compare the Market today. 

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