Where does my energy come from?
Have you ever thought about where energy comes from and how it ends up in your home? Energy production is the story of how we turn nature’s energy resources into usable sources of energy that power so many of our creature comforts. Energy is produced in lots of different ways, but 43% of our electricity comes from environmentally friendly sources - that’s more than any other energy company in the UK.
Where your gas comes from
British Gas gets its gas from three places:
- From the UK – The North Sea and the East Irish Sea makes up 43% of the UK’s gas
- From Europe and beyond - 44% of the UK’s gas is pumped in by European pipelines – half of this gas comes from Norway and Russia
- And as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), which makes up 13% of UK gas. It gets sent from all around the world in tankers
Figures correct as of December 2017 .
How gas is extracted
When a source of gas has been found, a well is drilled, and if the gas is below the seabed, a platform gets put up. The extracted gas is then piped to refineries on land where natural gas (methane) is purified and the other components, such as propane and butane, are separated out. Did you know the eggy smell is actually added? It’s so the gas can be more easily detected – gas naturally has no scent.
Liquified natural gas (LNG) saves on a lot of space. It’s created by cooling gas down to the point where it becomes a liquid. It’s then stored in a space of around 1/600th of what it would need if it were a gas, rather than a liquid. It can then be transported in large quantities by shipping tankers.
The gas is then stored in tanks before being pumped into the country’s distribution network and connected to a meter in your home.
Sources of electricity for your home
All electricity is made in roughly the same way – fuel is used to power turbines that are connected to generators which then make electricity.
The electricity is then turned into high voltages that get sent along powerline grids. But when it gets near our homes, it goes down into a 100-250 voltage system that’s safer for everyone to use.
With the development of renewable energy sources there are more ways than ever to power the turbines (see table below). Like the dinosaurs, fossil-fuelled power stations are on their way out.
Electricity powered by coal
Once the main source of the UK’s electricity, coal is now used less and less to generate power. This fossil fuel is due to be phased out completely by 2025 as the country switches to technologies with fewer carbon emissions.
In fact, we only have 8 coal power stations left in the UK. This means we rely on imports of coal mainly from Russia, USA, Australia, and Colombia, with a little coming in from the European Union.
To generate electricity in a coal-fired power station, finely powdered coal is blown into the combustion chamber of a boiler where it is burnt at a high temperature, releasing hot gases and heat energy. These convert water in tubes lining the boiler into steam which in turn drives turbines.
Electricity powered by gas
The first combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plant in the UK was commissioned in 1991. Since then the number of plants and the amount of electricity generated from gas has grown.
To generate electricity at a CCGT plant, gas is burnt to convert water into steam to drive the turbine.
Gas generates heat very efficiently. More electricity can be produced from less fuel than with other fossil fuel technologies. It also emits half the CO2 (carbon dioxide) of coal, making it a cleaner energy source.
Electricity powered by nuclear
Nuclear energy comes from the splitting of uranium atoms – a process called fission. This generates heat to produce steam, which is used by a turbine generator to generate electricity.
Electricity from nuclear is very green because nuclear power plants do not burn fuel, so do not produce greenhouse gas emissions.
The UK has 15 nuclear power stations generating about a fifth of the country’s electricity, but almost half will be retired by 2025.
Electricity powered by renewables
Renewable sources of electricity include wind (onshore and offshore), hydro, solar, wave and tidal, and biomass.
Onshore or offshore wind farms generate electricity by turning blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator. Total wind generation jumped by 34% in 2017.
Hydroelectric power comes from turbines placed in flowing water. They use the energy to power turbines that rotate at high speed and drive a generator.
Most of the UK’s hydro plants are large-scale and located in the Scottish Highlands. These modern plants have energy conversion efficiencies of at least 90% and produce 5 megawatts (which is bigger than it sounds).
Electricity is generated when sunlight hits panels of photovoltaic (PV) cells (usually made of silicon) and creates an electric field. The stronger the sunshine, the more electricity is produced.
The UK government has incentivised people to fit PV panels or tiles on their roofs and feed the electricity produced into the National Grid.
Larger scale solar “farms” also exist where fields of panels generate electricity for the Grid. Solar photovoltaic generation increased by 11% in 2017.
Onshore wave and tidal
Wave and tidal electricity comes from the wave and tidal energy driving turbines. The process is still relatively new to the UK but more research is needed to make it a bigger energy source.
In a biomass-fired power plant, wood chips and other types of biomass are burnt in the boilers instead of coal.
There are already several biomass plants in the UK, but because it’s not a clean source of energy, it’s not become mainstream.
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