Decarbonising the energy industry – What does it mean?

Decarbonising the energy industry means reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is produced as a waste material during the generation, storage and transmission of energy. It’s an important part of global efforts to fight climate change caused by man-made pollution. 2020 research demonstrated that the energy we produce accounts for 73.2% of our greenhouse gas emissions; plainly it’s one of the best places to start when reducing our carbon footprint. 

There are a few different ways that the carbon footprint of the energy industry can be reduced. The first of those is exploring alternatives to using fossil fuels (coal and gas) to generate electricity, both of which create large amounts of greenhouse gases when used to generate electricity. Alternatives to coal and gas include wind, solar, biomass, and hydro-electricity. These technologies all have their challenge (solar power, for instance, isn’t very effective in rainy climates - not because it relies on hours of sunshine but because it needs clear skies) – but globally renewable energy now accounts for a third of our power.  

Nuclear power presents an interesting challenge. On the one hand, producing energy from nuclear power generates far fewer emissions than coal or gas – it’s comparable to wind, solar and other renewables in that sense. However, nuclear power is relatively expensive to generate requiring very complex plants, and requires the mining of uranium (though other sources of uranium are being explored) – both of which make it less feasible as a source of power. There’s also the challenge of how to safely dispose of nuclear waste which is a problem that as yet has no easy solution. 

Another way to reduce the carbon footprint is to use technology to reduce carbon emissions from traditional gas and coal-based methods of energy production. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is leading the way in this sphere, and through varying methods has the potential to reduce the emissions by up to 90%. This technology isn’t as prevalent in countries such as the UK where coal and gas now account for very little of our power, but are making a big difference in other countries where coal and gas remain much more common. 

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