Learn how to harness renewables

4th April 2008 at 01:00
Greenpeace has launched a website that shows how to fight climate change and enjoy "a cleaner and more secure energy future" - without building a new coal or nuclear power station, writes Douglas Blane

An interactive blend of text, video and animation, EfficienCity is designed to promote decentralised energy generation. "This centralised system is a shambles," it says.

The solution it offers is to harness renewables - wind, wave, tidal, solar, biomass - and to use small, local combined heat and power (CHP) systems. These generate hot water for heating homes and factories at the same time as they produce electricity. The inspiration comes from eco-friendly communities such as Beddington and Woking, as well as breweries, football clubs and hospitals that have dipped their toes into decentralised energy.

The new site will appeal to primary pupils and teachers, but its ideas, presentation and hyperlinks provide plenty to stimulate the thinking of older colleagues.

There are, however, some problems from an educational perspective. CHP is neither new technology nor new energy; it simply makes old ways more efficient, and is sympathetically treated, along with decentralised energy, in the UK Government's White Paper on Meeting the Energy Challenge. But CHP systems rely heavily on natural gas, a carbon-polluting, finite fossil fuel, invariably imported from Russia.

Security of supply gets short shrift in EfficienCity - as do technological and economic challenges: "There's an abundance of energy in our natural world, ready to be harnessed ... the sky's the limit."

Major technical and construction problems must be solved, however, before marine energy can be harnessed. Wind turbines don't work in low or high winds. Solar energy varies with cloud cover. And scientific research shows that renewable energy is not as green as it's painted.

Only hydroelectric, fossil fuels and nuclear systems can generate a steady flow of electrical power regardless of demand. The first is almost fully exploited; the second is the cause of climate change; and Greenpeace dismisses the third as irrelevant: it "only supplies 4 per cent of UK energy needs". In fact, nuclear energy generates 25 per cent of electricity used in UK homes and factories.


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