There's a general consensus that electricity is a good thing. We all like to have the lights on, put the kettle on and be able to see where we're going. In addition, as many people are shunning gas guzzling cars and turning to the new generation of electric vehicles, we'll need to be plugging them in somewhere every night.
|image from plugincars.com|
There's also a general, though not unanimous, consensus that burning fossil fuels is pretty bad for the planet, and that we ought not to do so much of it, and that we might be running out of oil and coal. Estimates vary widely, with the possibility that there might be as yet undiscovered stores of fossil fuels under Canada and Siberia, but it's possible that coal might run out in just twenty-five years and oil in as little as fifty years.
There is no consensus at all on what we should do instead. Even in our current UK parliament there is no agreement: The Conservatives have pushed through a deal to build twelve new nuclear reactors across five sites, Labour think that Nuclear is an important part of the power generation mix, and the Liberal Democrats are staunch supporters of wind technology.
Hydroelectric power is probably the most efficient renewable power, but building huge dams, creating enormous lakes and blocking rivers from their natural flow relies on having the necessary geographical terrain, and can cause massive ecological problems too.
Solar energy relies on having sun, and is very inefficient. Even in a sunny state like Texas, a solar array the size of Texas would be required to provide the power used by... Texas!
So, with a few small and mostly insignificant exceptions, that leaves us with Nuclear Power or Wind Power. They both have their drawbacks, and when they are planned, they both create uproar with local people protesting that they don't want them. Here's a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of each.
|image from Sellafield sites.com|
+ We already have the technology
+ With increased investment, technology will be improved to develop ever more efficient and safer technologies with less waste.
+ Nuclear waste is solid and can be transported and stored well away from human populations.
+ there aren't any greenhouse gas emissions.
+ while there are huge costs involved with building and running nuclear power, it's actually a cheaper way to produce electricity than any other.
- Poor reputation for safety
- Technology for nuclear power and nuclear weaponry is the same - do we really want more potential for nuclear weapons in our fragile planet?
- Historically, there has been a lot of secrecy around nuclear development and power.
- Nuclear waste is dangerous. It remains dangerous for thousands of years. It needs to be stored somewhere away from water, populations and tectonic activity.
- Building and decommissioning reactors is extremely expensive.
- The fuel for running nuclear power is also finite. Turning exclusively to nuclear will shift power to the countries where it can be found, and it too will eventually run out.
|image from cambrian-mountains.co.uk|
+ green - no pollution
+ enormous potential
+ completely renewable, will never run out.
+ efficiency and technology are improving
+ operational costs are low
- fluctuates according to the wind, so to meet base demand would need to be stored by pumped hydro or batteries.
- space inefficient - you'd need to build 30,000 new wind turbines, over an area of 1200 sq km, to produce the same amount of electricity as one nuclear power plant taking up only 1.7 sq km.
- damaging to scenery, and unknown wildlife impact at this time.