Since humans first harnessed fire, we have spent ever increasing amounts of time in search of fuel. Cutting down trees, mining for coal, natural gas and crude oil have seen us through the age of industrialisation to the development of all modern technology – from streetlights to cars, to food and commercial production on an unprecedented scale, to an ever-more connected world where our ‘always on’ devices are kept alert.
But we are increasingly aware of the issues associated with burning fossil fuels. The most obvious is that they are not replenishable – at least, not within a few million years – so we need to find alternative sources before they run out. We also know that burning them releases many toxic, noxious chemicals, greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Even the process of mining or drilling for fossil fuels is an energy-intense activity, and the change of land use to oil fields or mining has a serious effect on the local environment, flora, fauna, and humans alike.
Consequently, we are reducing our reliance on fossil fuels – especially coal. In fact, in the last decade, the proportion of our energy needs supplied by coal in the UK has fallen by 93%.
Nuclear energy has the potential to free the world from having to use fossil fuels. Releasing energy from produces does not pollute the environment and currently 21% of the UK’s power is produced in this way. However, it is not considered a renewable energy source because of issues such as the cost and environmental impact of disposing of radioactive waste or dismantling obsolete power plants.
Renewable energy is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished within a human lifespan, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and waves.
Renewable energy sources that are increasingly used by suppliers in the UK include:
- Wind power: the huge white windmills we see on land and offshore are windfarms that provide sustainable and renewable power. They have some disadvantages, like the potential impact on local wildlife and are a love-it-or-hate-it sight on the horizon for many. As a supplement to other energy sources, wind power is excellent, but it isn’t currently consistent enough to fuel everyone’s needs all of the time.
- Wave power: while it’s still in the fairly early stages of development, wave power is thought to have the potential to provide most of the electrical power for coastal countries. The world’s first commercial wave farm was in Scotland, and the team behind it believe that the UK’s power needs could be exceeded by energy harvested from the sea. Critics have raised concerns about the risks to the delicate marine ecosystem and wildlife around the coast.
- Solar power: the most consistent source of energy there is… except on cloudy days. A long way from the pocket calculators of thirty years ago, solar panels can now be seen on roofs, road signs and in fields. Schemes enabling tenants and homeowners to supplement their energy needs with solar panels on their houses had good uptake. However, solar panels need to be positioned in places that get sunlight but which don’t have a more useful purpose, so for example, fields full of solar panels might not be the greenest way to go.
- Biofuel: plant or animal material used for energy production. The by-products of farming are used for commercial energy production and are considered ‘green’ as they are renewable.
Is your energy renewable?
Since 2005, all electricity suppliers in the UK must disclose the mix of fuels they use to generate the power they sell to us. If you’re interested in finding out how your own supplier generates their fuel, check their website for ‘fuel mix’. It’s worth noting that the suppliers that rely heavily on fossil fuels will face financial penalties for using them in the future – potentially driving up the cost of tariffs for the consumer.
If you’d like to increase the amount of green energy you use, the UK has a range of green energy suppliers offering renewable tariffs, with electricity generated exclusively from renewable resources and gas with a portion of biomethane.
As part of our commitment to help tackle climate change, we're making some changes. By 2021, we will: Reduce the Bank's paper usage by 25%. Eliminate all single use of plastics. Retrofit all lighting with low energy LEDs. Switch to renewable energy suppliers. This is part of Al Rayan Bank's Sharia and ethical roadmap.