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Overview - The changing energy mix

The changing energy mix – reliance on fossil fuels, growing significance of renewables

Modern life is heavily reliant upon our use of energy, to heat our houses, power our forms of transport, help our industries work and produce our food and clothes.

Key words

Energy mix - The range of energy sources of a region or country, both renewable and non-renewable.

Fossil fuel - A natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms

The “energy mix” relates to the different energy sources we use as a country and in what proportions.  This is often spilt into renewable and non-renewable forms of energy.  Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are used to provide heat or to produce electricity.  These are non-renewable so will run out and also pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Renewable sources of energy include sun, wind, waves, the tides, running water and geothermal heat.  They are renewable because they will not run out and they are non- polluting.  However, they return smaller amounts of energy and take up lots of land, and they require regular maintenance.  The last energy type is nuclear, which is non-renewable as Uranium is a fuel that will run out.  Many of the UK’s nuclear reactors are due to be replaced and there is a massive scheme planned with the French company EDF and the Chinese government to build a reactor at Hinkley Point that will provide 7% of the UK’s energy needs.

The way that we source our energy has changed over time and will change again in the future.  Up until the mid-20th Century we were heavily reliant on coal, until oil drilling in the 1950’s changed this.  The government would like this to change again by 2020 as shown on the graph.  We are heading towards a more renewable energy future if the UK government can maintain investment in this area.  At present, many of the grants for this are being reduced or withdrawn. It is also clear that the total amount of energy we produce is expected to fall as a result of falling use.  This is an ongoing pattern; we use less energy today than we did in 1970 despite our population having risen! Households are using less energy due to improvements in heating and heat conservation technologies such as insolation and triple glazing.  Industry is using less because many of our heavy industries have shut down, gone abroad or become more energy efficient. In contrast, we are using more energy for transport as the number of cars on our roads has gone up significantly.

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