Our modern world uses energy everywhere - to light our houses and businesses, to fuel our cars, trains, buses and planes, to cook our food, to entertain us and even to provide us with water. It is a constant part of our everyday lives so why should we worry?
Because our energy use is not sustainable;
Our Energy Usage
The vast majority of
the energy we use is produced from fossil fuels of one sort or another and
every time we use it we dump carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.
This continued pattern of fossil fuel usage is not sustainable - so what can we do?
To ensure our continued energy use is sustainable we must adopt an Energy Hierarchy:
Reduce the Need for Energy
Much of the energy we use is just wasted. Leaving electronic equipment on standby or leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms are two easy examples. We can change our habits slightly and save a lot of energy. Simple actions like not filling the kettle too full and using the timer on central heating can help save our planet and save money too!
We can also reduce the amount of energy we use by switching to different technologies. New LCD TVs use far less energy then traditional ones whereas the new plasma screens use far more.
Our houses waste energy too. An un-insulated house lets 35% of the energy used to heat it escape through the walls and a further 25% escapes through the roof. Blocking drafts and closing curtains at dusk is a quick and easy first step. Loft insulation is a relatively simple DIY job and the savings can repay the investment in just a few years. Insulating walls and floors and installing double glazing is the next step to a low energy building.
We can also reduce the amount of energy we use when we travel. Switching to walking and cycling for shorter journeys and using public transport when possible all help to reduce the use of fossil fuels. The emissions from cars are very bad for our atmosphere as is the pollution caused by the processing of oil - using your car less, particularly for short journeys, can help reduce this detrimental effect on our environment.
Use Energy More Efficiently
There are many times when we can be more efficient with the energy we use. Perhaps the most important and effective is to use efficient lighting. Almost 20% of the worlds energy is used in lighting. Old fashioned incandescent bulbs convert most of the energy they use into heat - not light. Halogen bulbs are even worse! At home you can switch to Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) - energy saving bulbs. These use about a quarter of the energy and also last a lot longer. The higher initial cost is soon repaid. At work and in the office standard fluorescent strip lights should be replaced with the far more efficient high frequency versions.
Modern heating systems and white goods are also more efficient. Gas condensing boilers should now be fitted in all new houses and if you boiler is more than around 10 years old then it is time to upgrade and save energy and money in the process. Fridges, freezers, washing machines and other modern consumer goods have all become more efficient and many of them are rated so that you can easily find the most efficient model when you are shopping.
Supply Energy from Renewable Sources
The energy we use does not have to come from the fossil fuels that are polluting our world. Fossil fuels are also manufacture from materials that were created millions of years ago and are not replaceable - once we've used it all it's gone! Some energy sources avoid pollution and are also based on ongoing processes such as wind or sunlight whilst others are replenishable and any pollution is reabsorbed such as biomass. These technologies are referred to as renewable energy.
Wind represents a vast source of energy which man has used for over 2000 years. As the UK is Europe's windiest country, it is one of the most promising renewable energy technologies for our future. Solar energy can also be harnessed, either at a commercial level or just for home use. New systems can be installed relatively cheaply in homes and provide hot water all year round!
Energy can also be obtained from a variety of other sources too, such as domestic and commercial waste, growing crops for energy use, fuel cells that use chemical reactions, land fill gas, water and wave energy.
Renewable energy only accounted for 2.8% of the electricity generated in the UK in 1999 but it is growing and could be the key to a pollution free future! Householders and businesses can also join in by using renewable microgeneration of energy. These could be in the form of a small wind turbine attached to a house or an array of photovoltaic cells on the roof of a factory. Many planning authorities are beginning to request a proportion the energy usage of new commercial buildings to be supplied by microgeneration.
Use Clean and Efficient Technologies
The last level of the Energy Hierarchy catches those areas where we are still using fossil fuels even after reducing, making efficiency savings and changing fuel. Sometimes we still need to burn oil, gas or coal at present but we can endeavour to reduce the impact that this has on our environment by making the process cleaner and more efficient.
Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is a fuel-efficient energy technology that, unlike conventional forms of power generation, puts to use the heat by-product that is normally wasted to the environment. CHP can increase the overall efficiency of fuel use to more than 75%, compared with around 50% from conventional electricity generation. Furthermore, because it often supplies electricity locally, CHP can also avoid transmission and distribution losses.
There are also programmes to make coal fired power stations clean and reduce emissions from both petrol and diesel engines.
A Sustainable Energy Future
By following these methods of
saving energy and making it more environmentally friendly we should be
able to significantly reduce the amount of fossil fuel that we use and
make it possible for the rest of the world to develop without the reliance
on fossil fuels that our own industrial revolution required. We have
already effected our climate and will have to adapt to to the inevitable
changes but by implementing a sustainable energy future now we can stop
the our emissions pushing the climate over a fatal tipping point.
Our new energy future can provide improved quality of life for all both
now and in the future - a successful economy, a fair society and a clean
and healthy environment.