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Is Renewable Energy and Solar Power Making a Difference?

The vast majority of carbon emissions are due to the burning of fossil fuels. The reasons for this, are principally to generate electrical power, heat or movement (for example, transport). For renewable energy to have a significant impact, it must be able to replace these requirements, at least in the short term before technology can adapt.

Renewable energy principally includes solar power, wind, hydro, biomass and marine energy. The other major contributor towards low carbon energy production is nuclear power. The relative contributions from these sources is as follows:

As you can see, this initially looks depressing, however, this is based on the most recently available data, which was 2008 - the main solar incentives were not introduced until April in 2010, which is when it has seen explosive growth, even if such expansion started from 0.1% of totally energy provision in the UK.

A report financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Protection and Nuclear Safety and the US Department of State placed estimates on the contributions of renewable energy towards final energy consumption at 19% (up from 13% in 2008), and that of nuclear at 2.9%, a 50% increase from 2008. I imagine the figures for 2010 and 2011, when they are eventually released, will show an even sunnier picture, because these are the two years when solar panels and renewable energy have really taken hold. Our office, dealing with solar enquiries, has increased in size from a two person business, to a company employing about 15 people as there are more and more people wanting quotes to power their homes with photovoltaic systems.

From an environmental standpoint, the good news continues when total energy consumption is considered. Total energy use per capita is declining in the UK:

Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators

However, the World's energy use is rising, although fairly gradually, but it will continue to be important for fast-developing countries such as China and India to grow with renewable energy and not against it.