In this article:

What is meant by renewable energy?

Different types of renewable energy

Pros and cons of renewable energy sources

What renewable source produces the most energy in the UK?

How is renewable energy produced in the UK?

How is renewable energy stored?

Do renewable energy sources meet electricity demand?

Why is it important to invest in renewable energy?

The best energy is the one you don't use

Change the way you power your home for the better with renewable energy. Check out our guide to discover the different types of renewable sources and what we’re doing at Igloo to support our customers in making smarter choices.

What is meant by renewable energy?

Renewable energy is energy that has been generated from a sustainable source like wind, sun or water. An energy source is described as ‘renewable’ if it can ‘renew’ or replenish itself over and over again, very quickly. Sometimes renewable energy is described as ‘infinite energy’ as there is no end to its supply.

Fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas are the opposite of renewable. These fossil fuels take millions of years to form and will not replenish before we use them all up. Not only are they unsustainable but also the leading cause of climate change. This is down to the high volume of carbon emissions released when fossil fuels are burned.

Different types of renewable energy

There are many great sources of renewable energy but these are currently the most popular:

  • Solar energy

  • Wind energy

  • Hydro energy

  • Tidal energy

  • Geothermal energy

  • Biomass energy

Pros and cons of renewable energy sources

Solar energy

As the name suggests, solar energy comes from the sun and is collected via solar panels. You’ve likely seen small scale solar panel systems on the roofs of homes and businesses in your local area. There are also large scale solar power plants built to collect solar energy. The UK has numerous solar farms ranging from small to large. The largest UK solar farm is Chapel Lane in Dorset. This solar farm is capable of meeting the energy needs of 60,000 homes in Bournemouth on a summer's day and is the size of 175 football pitches. The world's largest solar farm, the Bhadla Solar Park is located in India and covers a whopping 10,000 acres or 15 square miles.

Solar panels use a photovoltaic effect to convert solar energy into electricity. Solar energy has many benefits including their daily ability to collect solar energy from the sun. They can also have disadvantages such as their reliance on sunny weather when considering the poor weather the UK can be prone to, and the amount of space they take up.

Pros of solar energy

  • Solar panels can collect solar energy from the sun daily

  • The amount of solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface in 1 hour is more than the planet’s total energy requirements for an entire year

  • Solar energy can be stored in batteries & fuel cells so it’s available to use after dark too

  • New solar energy storage systems are being developed continuously

Cons of solar energy

  • If it’s a cloudy or rainy day, you can’t collect as much solar energy

  • The solar energy we can use depends on the time of day, the season of the year & our geographical location

  • Large scale solar power plants take up a lot of space

Wind energy

Wind farms provide an abundance of clean energy and are commonplace in the UK. The turbines are used to drive generations, which feed electricity into the National Grid. While there are some domestic wind power systems available for off-grid generation, they aren’t suitable for all properties. Wind energy is an attractive energy source for countries with a large coastline such as the UK. It provides us with a reliable source of energy that can be stored, for a low running cost. It does have some disadvantages and opposition however, with people arguing that it ruins the natural landscape.

Pros of wind power

  • Some parts of the world (like the UK) are naturally very windy and perfect for wind farms

  • Wind energy can be stored to use later

  • Once a wind turbine has been installed, it has very low running costs

Cons of wind power

  • It’s not always windy and can be hard to predict when it will be

  • Some people feel wind farms spoil the natural surroundings

Hydro energy

Hydropower involves building a dam or barrier to create a large reservoir. This controlled flow of water is then used to drive turbines, which generate electricity. Hydro energy is more reliable than solar or wind power as it doesn’t need to rely on weather conditions. There are some disadvantages however such as the high cost of install, or limited places around the country to install. 

Hydropower is a popular energy source in the UK with many hydroelectric power stations across the country. The largest of these is Dinorwig, located in Snowdonia. Dinorwig has the ability to supply a maximum power of over 1,700 megawatts. For the world's largest hydroelectric power station you need to look to China. The Three Gorges Dam has a maximum power of over 22,000 megawatts. 

Pros of hydro energy

  • More reliable than solar or wind power

  • Electricity can be stored for use when demand reaches a peak

Cons of hydro energy

  • Hydropower installations are expensive

  • Limited places remaining that are suitable for hydropower plants

Tidal energy

Tidal energy is a type of hydropower, generating electricity by the power of the sea. With two tides a day, there are four opportunities to generate tidal power as the tide goes in and out.

Tidal energy does have some key advantages such as its efficiency and predictability of tides. While it’s disadvantages include the cost of install and limited locations to install a tidal power station. 

There is some great potential for tidal energy in the UK. The Government estimates that the wave and tidal energy has the potential of delivering 20% (30-50GW) of the UK’s current electricity needs. This potential has not yet been reached, with only one tidal power station in the UK called The Bluemill Sound Tidal Stream Array and located in the Shetland Isles. This tidal power station is only capable of producing 0.3MW of energy, so we still have a long way to go to harness the full potential of tidal energy.      

Pros of tidal energy

  • Tidal flow is highly predictable as we know the tide times

  • It’s very efficient

  • We can already store tidal energy & there are even better storage systems in development

Cons of tidal energy

  • The infrastructure required to generate tidal energy is expensive

  • Few places have the perfect conditions for a tidal power plant

  • Sometimes tidal power plants have an impact on the surrounding environment

Biomass energy

Biomass energy is generated from burning organic matter, like plants, crops and animal waste. It’s considered a renewable energy source as these natural sources grow again and again. Burning waste gives the advantage of reducing contribution to landfill and is cheap to generate. It is worth noting however that when biomass is produced, it lets CO2 and methane gas into the atmosphere. 

Biomass generation is popular in the UK with multiple biomass plants across the country, the largest of which is Ferrybridge Multifuel. The plant is located in Yorkshire and has the capacity of producing 79MW of energy.

Pros of biomass energy

  • Using animal & human waste to generate energy is cheap

  • Burning waste for energy means less ends up in landfill

Cons of biomass energy

  • Crops planted for biomass energy take up a lot of space, which could be otherwise used for growing food and forests

  • Generating biomass energy releases CO2 & methane gas into the atmosphere

Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy involves harnessing the natural hot reservoirs below the earth’s surface. Geothermal energy can be used to heat homes directly and to generate electricity. In Iceland, this renewable source generates 100% of the country’s electricity and heat. The benefits to carbon footprint and its reliability make geothermal energy extremely attractive. However, it can also be expensive to generate and finding a suitable location to tap into can be difficult.

There are two methods to generate geothermal energy. Firstly, you have shallow geothermal, a method that taps into both the solar energy on the Earth’s surface as well as heat from the Earth’s core. A heat pump is then used to harness the difference in temperature and provide heating only. Deep geothermal taps into higher temperatures from the earth’s core. This high-temperature heat can be used to generate electricity. At present in the UK, we only have one shallow geothermal generation station, which is located in Southampton. The UK currently has no deep geothermal generation. 

Pros of geothermal energy

  • The carbon footprint & pollution associated with geothermal energy is relatively low

  • Energy generated from this source is both reliable & predictable as it does not fluctuate in the same way as other renewable sources

Cons of geothermal energy

  • Geothermal energy is location specific. Plants need to be built in places where the energy is easily accessible.

  • Geothermal energy is an expensive renewable source to tap into

What renewable source produces the most energy in the UK?

Renewable sources produce almost 40% of our energy in the UK. You may be surprised to learn that of all the renewable sources, wind is responsible for producing the most energy. In fact, for Q4 of 2020, offshore and onshore wind accounted for 24.9% of all energy produced. 

This is due in part to the effectiveness of wind farms and our often temperamental (and windy) weather. We have plenty of windy days and our coastline is relatively shallow and large allowing offshore wind farms to be easily installed. It may interest you to know that our coastline is home to the largest offshore wind farm in the world, Hornsea One, just off the Yorkshire coast. Hornsea one produces enough energy to power well over one million homes.

How is renewable energy produced in the UK?

In the first quarter of 2020, renewable’s share of energy generation exceeded 40% for the first time, and for the whole of 2020, 42.9% of energy was generated from renewable sources. That’s an 11% increase compared to 2019.¹ The majority comes from wind alone! This should come as no real surprise considering just how windy it gets here. Finally, something to thank the Great British weather for! Our long coastline and shallow waters also make wind turbines easier to install.

On a global basis, hydropower is the most widely used renewable energy source. It currently accounts for more than half of the global renewable power generation capacity and 18% of the world’s total power generation.

How is renewable energy stored?

Renewable energy is stored in batteries. On a large scale, these batteries are found in power plants but you can get renewable energy storage for domestic use too.

Several new energy storage technologies are currently being tested. One allows electric vehicle drivers to store power in their cars and sell it back to the National Grid. Another uses smart storage heaters.

Do renewable energy sources meet electricity demand?

Not quite yet! Unfortunately, most renewable energy sources are unpredictable and less reliable than other sources of energy. They rely on sunny days, windy weather and other natural occurrences. This is why developing adequate renewable energy storage is vital. With the right storage, we can capture and release renewable energy to balance the grid when demand is high.

Experts predict that renewables could potentially power the world by 2050.

Why is it important to invest in renewable energy?

Renewable energy sources will save us money in the long term. This is because once renewable energy plants are built they require little maintenance. Harnessing solar and wind power would mean we didn’t need to import expensive energy from elsewhere.

More importantly, however, investing in renewable energy will help save the planet and ensure it exists for future generations. Generating more renewable energy will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and in turn, shrink our carbon footprints. It’s the cleaner, healthier option and unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy sources won’t run out. Renewable energy is key to ending the climate crisis.

The best energy is the one you don’t use

We love to encourage our customers and provide them with solutions to use less energy. We really believe that the best energy is the one you don’t use! Pioneering technology such as our Me & My Home survey and smart technology helps our customers manage and understand their energy usage, with personalised energy saving tips and advice.

One such way to use less energy is to switch from a fossil-fuel-powered boiler to an air source heat pump. This proven solution provides a clean and low-carbon way to heat your home. Air source heat pumps are up to 4 times more efficient than gas and oil boilers and can help cut your carbon footprint by up to 65%!

Upgrading your heating system doesn’t have to cost the earth either. With the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, you’ll have access to £5,000 to help bring down the cost of installation.

Another way we support our customers in using less energy is through smart meters and smart thermostats. These devices help you take control of your heating and minimise energy wastage. Installing smart heating controls not only helps reduce your carbon footprint but means you’ll likely spend less money on energy, which is always a good thing!

Interested in finding out more about our energy-saving products?

1 Source: