Unit 2C: The Challenges of Resource Management (The growth of renewable…
Unit 2C: The Challenges of Resource Management
Issues associated with energy exploitation
There are economic and environmental issues that are associated with the exploitation of energy sources:
- Generating electricity has many environmental issues:
Renewable energies like wind and solar power can be considered visual pollution. Tidal power and HEP dams may affect marine ecosystems.
The uranium used in nuclear power plants is highly radioactive and the waste products have to be kept away from people indefinitely.
Fossil fuel powered stations create emissions, noise from trains transporting coal, and waste products like ash. They have also been linked to high levels of radiation.
- Generating electricity costs a lot of money. There are initial costs, such as building power stations, dams and wind farms. There are also maintenance and running costs, such as buying fuel, repairing damage to structures and disposing of waste products. The government must balance these costs with other important things that the country must buy. They must also decide whether to invest in non-renewable or renewable options.
The growth of renewable energy
Solar panels are becoming more common, particularly on peoples' homes. The UK government think that 4% of our electricity could come from solar power by 2020.
Less than 0.01% of UK energy is generated through tidal power. The UK is an island nation and could generate around 20% of its electricity using waves and tides.
The amount of UK electricity generated through hydroelectric power (HEP) has remained the same since 2012. This will not increase unless new dams are built.
Over 50% of all renewable energy generated in the UK comes from wind farms. Most of this is from onshore turbines, but the number of offshore turbines is increasing.
Renewable fuels make up less than 10% of the UK's energy mix. The government needs to increase this figure to 15% by 2020 to meet its European Union target. The UK has a lot of potential for generating renewable energy:
It is estimated that gas will last another 50 years and coal another 112 years. Around 40% of the UK's gas supply currently comes from domestic supplies (the North Sea). However, UK supplies of fossil fuels could run out within just 5 years.
The UK has been reliant on fossil fuels for many years. Global supplies of fossil fuels were once thought to be running out. However, as technology improves, new supplies can be discovered and accessed more easily. There are huge, barely tapped reserves in South America, Africa and the Arctic.
Energy resources in the UK
- The mixture of primary energy sources used is called the energy mix. The energy mix of the UK consists mostly of gas, coal and nuclear fuel. The last oil-fired power station in the UK closed in 2015.
Energy security and energy insecurity
Places that have energy security produce a high percentage of the energy that they consume. Places that have energy insecurity consume more than they produce. Energy security is determined by the balance between the amount of energy produced in that country and energy imported from abroad.
Some countries produce large supplies of energy. They may have fossil fuel reserves or access to other energy sources, such as geothermal heat. Other countries are dependent upon imported fuel. Fuel prices are set by the exporting countries and so those importing fuel often have to pay high prices.
High income countries (HICs) and new emerging economies (NEEs) consume a lot of energy. The people living in these countries are usually linked to a national electricity grid. They use a lot of technology in their lives and have a high standard of living. Factories in NEEs also use energy to manufacture products. Low income countries (LICs) use less energy. Many people living in LICs are not connected to an electricity grid, but rely on primary energy sources, such as fuel-wood or animal dung.
Energy affects both food supplies and industry. Mining and growing biofuels required to generate energy takes up valuable farmland, which reduces the amount of food available to eat. And if energy is more expensive or in short supply, then it costs more to produce and transport food. This is passed on to consumers through an increase in the price of food.
Energy has many uses. It heats homes and offices, cooks our food and powers transport. Much of the energy that is used is in the form of electricity. This is called secondary energy - primary energy sources, such as fossil fuels or the wind, have been used to generate it.
Resources are things that people use. Some resources are essential for survival, whilst others are needed to maintain a standard of living.