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Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010
The Switch: a look at future energy in the North West

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Future energy: green buildings

Colin Sykes
By Colin Sykes
North West Environment Correspondent

We're so used to electricity that it's difficult to imagine life without it.

But unless we start building new power plants soon, experts predict that there's a real danger of the lights going out.

But what to build? Every technology has its critics and as the arguments continue the clock keeps on ticking.

SOURCES OF UK ENERGY: 2010
Electricity pylon
gas - 50%
coal - 20%
nuclear - 20%
renewable sources - 7%

At the moment we generate more than half of our electricity from gas with 20% from coal and 20% from nuclear. Only about 7% of our power comes from renewable sources.

The mix is changing though. As the era of abundant North Sea gas comes to an end, the UK has become a net importer of gas with concerns about the security of supply once we've left at the mercy of overseas providers.

Added to that, many of our existing power plants are coming to the end of their lives. Coal-fired plants from the 1970s and 80s would no longer be acceptable today unless they were built so the carbon could be captured.

New gas powered stations are an option, but again there's the concern about supply. And there's another factor to put into the mix.

Our Government is committed to increasing our use of renewable energy from 7% now to about 30% by 2020.

So what are the options?

Renewables: wind and wave energy

The UK has one of the windiest coastlines in Europe and the North West has been designated as an ideal location for off-shore turbines.

Future energy: wind power

Work has just started on two new wind farms nine miles out to sea from Barrow. They'll use turbines which are currently some of the biggest in the world - each about the size of Blackpool Tower.

Just over a hundred are being sunk into the sea bed near Walney Island which, it's claimed, will generate enough power for 320,000 homes - more than the population of Cumbria itself.

And that's not all. In the next round of development, the Crown Estates which owns most of the UK sea bed has just licensed the building of a further 10,000 turbines around the entire coastline with hundreds expected to be built in the Irish Sea.

Onshore turbine developments continue too although at a slower pace. Planning applications remain controversial with many people opposed to turbines being sited near to their homes because of the visual impact.

The use of tidal power is also being investigated in the North West with Peel Energy looking at four potential designs for a turbines in the River Mersey.

Environmental concerns and shipping needs are important factors though and it's expected to be some time before a scheme could be presented for planning approval.

Nuclear energy

Future energy: nuclear power

Having made a decision to go ahead with new nuclear build, the Government is currently consulting on the possibility of three new nuclear power stations in the North West.

One is expected to be near the existing plant a Heysham in Lancashire with another two in West Cumbria.

Two designs are currently being evaluated but this is not going to be a cheap solution.

A nuclear power plant costs abour £1.5 billion to build and with a commercially deregulated energy market, companies could well be looking for Government incentives to persuade them to invest.

Other sources: methane, combined heat & power

Methane is one of the most damaging greenhouse gases and 40% of all UK methane emissions come from landfill sites.

Many waste authorities are now building plants to capture the methane produced from waste and turn it into electricity which will also have the dual benefit of reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.

Some of our larger buildings are now looking to generate power through their own combined heat and power plants which put heat loss to work by producing electricity.

Many hospitals are taking this approach and finding they can generate up to 100% of their own power.

Conclusion

In talking to energy experts I've discovered that with present technology there is no one-stop solution for our future energy needs.

A mix of energy generation is what most of them are calling for but one there's one thing that most will agree on...

As a nation, we need to act now.





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