Electricity Generation Make-Up
In 2015, the majority of our energy was generated from natural gas – 30%, followed by coal – 23. These are both non-renewable fossil fuels, and so our government aims to reduce our reliance on these sources. The next largest contributor is nuclear energy, at 21% followed by wind and solar providing 14% of our country’s energy. However, by the first quarter of 2018, use of coal had dropped to only 9.4%, although gas had risen to 39.9%. Nuclear energy now accounts for around 17.9%, but the overall use of renewable sources – mainly hydroelectric, wind and solar – increased to 30.1%.
Structure of National Grid
The National Grid is a huge infrastructure whose main function is to distribute electricity around the country. It mainly uses overheard lines and pylons in order to transmit high voltages – up to 400kV, and can control the flow of power in response to demand. The system of the grid works from the power station to a step up transformer, which increases the voltage so as to reduce current so that the heating effect, and so energy lost as thermal energy, is lower. It also means that the size of the wire used can be smaller, which saves on costs. The step up transformer lead into the overhead transmission lines, passing through pylons, and then to step down transformers, which reduce the voltage so it can be used in the household (240V). It is individually supplied to customers through distribution lines.
Some of the main challenges the National Grid faces are general reliability and day-to-day wear and tear issues, such as cable faults, communication faults, and transformer failures, especially as the technology and parts age. However, a more significant problem is that of the infrastructure itself – the way the public uses energy is changing, and as such the way it is supplied needs to adapt. At the moment, the energy market is mostly supply driven, and customers largely choose energy suppliers based on price. However, with clean energy rapidly becoming a more spotlighted issue, customers are beginning to focus their choices on environmental value, with companies that reduce their CO2 emission and attempt to use greener sources becoming more popular. The network itself is also quite limited now – existing infrastructure does not currently accommodate future wind farm or nuclear sites, and many of the more rural areas do not receive the same level of supply as customers living in highly urbanised areas.