How do you generate electricity?
Well, for many of us the answer to that is simple: we don’t!
For generating electricity we instead rely – of course – on the power companies who specialise in electricity generation to do that for us. (And generation’s just part of it, too – there’s distribution to think about as well. It’s a complicated business!)
It’s no mean feat either, generating electricity. Technology has so far been unable to deliver mega-batteries with the capacity to store any meaningful amount of backup, so the people who are in charge of producing our electricity have a real balancing act to carry out. Twenty four hours a day. Seven days a week. And so on. As the National Grid site puts it: ” If the instantaneous demand is higher than the generation, the system frequency will fall. Conversely, if the instantaneous generation is higher than the demand, the frequency will rise”. In other words: If your generation is below demand, there’s the risk of power cuts. And if it’s too high above demand, then the systems could also fail. Power cuts being the thing we definitely want to avoid, as anyone who’s spent an evening with only tealights and paperbacks for entertainmant will surely attest:
Electricity is so plentiful that we practically take it for granted, but delivering it to the home is actually a miracle of modern(ish) science.
For most of the 20th century our electricity was generated from fossil fuels. Perhaps at one time it might have seemed as if this was a limitless supply – and even if it had been, there was the question of CO2 emissions which became more pressing as the 21st Century approached.
And these days there’s also the reality of rising fuel bills to contend with on top of the environmental issues. The approach taken by energy companies and governments is to rely on a mix of different sources with which to make electricity – with the eventual aim of one day having emission-free electricity generation. Renewables are all around us these days, from the wind farms whose turbines are dotted around the countryside, to the emerging tidal power stations that could one day be major contributers to the nation’s electricity supply as a whole.
For the average householder, though, opportunities to generate your own electricity up until now have been a pretty specialised kind of pursuit. But things are changing quickly on this front – and recent projects such as the one (nearing completion) by Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) are offering ordinary people the chance to save themselves some money as well as the environment. What the GHA’s project involves is simple but effective: installing solar panels to 500 homes – making the carbon footprint of each household lighter as well as making fuel bills that bit more manageable.
In terms of the potential emission-cutting, the figures speak for themselves: each of the houses fitted with solar panels could cut 24 tonnes of CO2 emissions over a 25 year period. At almost a tonne per year, the total saving amounts to the equivalent of filling five Olympic-size swimming pools.
Some links worth checking out:
home renewables explained (from the Energy Saving Trust site)
Guardian newspaper Q&A with experts from the Energy Saving Trust.
Which? guide: solar panels explained
Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) page about feed-in tariffs.
National Grid demand data – in real time.
Do you generate your own electricity? Let us know you experiences – either leave a reply below or a link to your blog and let us know how you’re getting on.