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Types of renewable energy

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is generated from sustainable, 100% renewable sources like wind, sun, and water. It’s called renewable, or sometimes infinite energy because it can renew itself quickly - time and time again.

It’s the greener, cleaner way to power our homes, and has a huge part to play in building a sustainable energy system of the future.

 

What’s the difference between renewable, green and clean energy?

These terms often get confused with one another. Here are the main differences:

Renewable energy

Renewable energy can be replenished as fast as (or faster than) it gets consumed. Most renewable energy sources are green too. Although some sources, like hydroelectric power, can have a small negative impact on fishing or land use.

Green energy 

Green energy plans don't simply use renewables. Ofgem, the energy regulator, also asks that 'green energy' plans must offer additional environmental benefits too.

Take our Green Energy Update for example. On top of offering 100% renewable electricity1, we plant 5 trees2 a year for every customer who signs up. 

You can take your carbon emission-cutting to the next level with OVO Beyond – our energy plan supercharging your journey to carbon zero.

Ready to join the renewable energy revolution and fight climate change? Find out more about our energy plans.

Clean energy

Clean energy is created with minimal use of hazardous chemicals or radiation. It won’t emit carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. Like green energy, it doesn’t directly threaten plants or animals.

Some regard nuclear power as clean – it doesn’t produce CO2. However, the uranium mining involved in it does and, if something goes wrong with a nuclear plant, the fallout can be catastrophic and last for generations.

You could argue that ‘clean’ energy is the hardest to define. It’s a pretty broad term.

 

What's the opposite of renewable, clean and green energy?

You’ve got it – dirty fossil fuels. This is coal, oil and gas that takes hundreds of millions of years to form. They’re fossils. They can never be replenished or renewed before we use them all up – so burning them is completely unsustainable.

 

Renewable energy sources

There are many sources of renewable energy. And, these days, lots more energy suppliers? (like us) are embracing the tech needed to make renewables popular. The good news: it’s predicted that renewables will power 40% of the world’s power by 2040.

At OVO, renewable electricity comes from a range of green sources, including:

  • Geothermal energy.

  • Hydroelectric power.

  • Solar power.

  • Wind power.

4 popular types of renewable energy sources

Solar power 

Solar power comes from the sun and here on earth we’re lucky to have direct access. Solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to convert solar energy into electricity

 

Solar power pros and cons:

Pros

  • The sun is in plentiful supply.

  • Solar power plants can store energy from the sun, so solar power can be used after dark. 

  • More solar storage systems are being developed.

Cons

  • Research, development and manufacture of solar panels isn’t free.

  • Large-scale solar power plants need lots of space. 

  • And more space to store the energy produced.

Wind power 

Wind can be used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Today, we use wind turbines to convert wind energy into electricity.

 

Wind power pros and cons:

Pros

  • Some parts of the world are very windy – great for wind farms and kites.

  • Wind energy can be stored for later use.

  • Once a turbine is up, running costs are nearly zero.

Cons

  • Some people consider wind farms to be eyesores.

  • You can’t always predict this invisible force.

Tidal energy 

Tidal energy is created by the tidal power of the sea – the rise and fall of the tides. Energy can be generated from the tide going in and out, so two tides a day means four opportunities to generate tidal power.

 

Tidal energy pros and cons:

Pros

  • Knowing tide times makes this a predictable form of hydropower. 

  • Tidal power is currently 80% efficient – that’s high.

  • Tidal energy can be stored and there are new storage systems being developed.

Cons

  • Infrastructure is pricey (but it’s hoped costs will come down).

  • Relatively few places have the perfect conditions needed for a tidal power plant. 

  • The potential impact on the environment when installing a tidal power plant.

Biomass energy 

Biomass energy is generated by using organic matter to create energy. And using sustainable plants and crops that can be regrown, it’s a renewable source of energy.

 

Biomass energy pros and cons:

Pros

  • Transport produces a huge amount of greenhouse gases – biofuels have potential to reduce this carbon footprint.

  • Waste can be used which is cheap and reduces the amount that goes to landfill.

Cons

  • Crops for energy take up land space.

  • The process is not entirely clean – CO2 and methane gas are released.

 

How does renewable energy work?

If you fancy wearing your science hat, you can find out more about about the mechanics of some of the world’s most popular renewables:

Which renewable energy source produces the most energy?

As the UK is extremely windy, especially at sea, and has both a large coastline and shallow water, wind farms are currently able to produce the most renewable energy.

In fact, wind generated more electricity than coal for Britain in 2017. And most of the time, solar power did too (making it a close second).

 

How is renewable energy stored?

New, innovative technologies are capable of storing renewable electricity, so an abundance of energy doesn’t go to waste.

Check out our vehicle-to-grid technology trial that allows electric vehicle drivers to store power in their cars and sell it back to the National Grid at peak times.

Also, you can now get the most advanced and economical electric storage heater on the market in your home. We’ve teamed up with Dimplex on Quantum Heaters for more efficient, planet-friendly home heating that puts you in total control. 

 

Can renewable energy meet demand?

Not quite yet, as renewables, like wind and solar, are unpredictable. That makes balancing the National Grid – matching the supply of electricity to demand – trickier. But we’re getting there. With the correct infrastructure and storage in place, experts say renewables could power the world by 2050.

With the advent of new batteries, pumped hydro and bio-fuelled gas turbines, energy can be supplied flexibly, 24/7, to meet the demand. Smart technology can also be used to provide power, as the world of energy changes.

 

Why is it so important to invest in renewables? 

There could be financial benefits, due to the boom within the renewable energy industry (it’s growing and looks good for the economy). But the real reason to invest in renewable energy – in the true sense – is to provide a better, healthier future for our planet and everyone in it.

Unlike fossil fuels, renewable electricity simply can’t run out. It’s always there for future generations. And the more we use it, the more we shrink our carbon footprint. 


Our approach to renewable energy

We’re doing our bit by investing in and developing grid balancing software and renewable energy storage technologies. Like electric vehicles. And home batteries to store electricity when it’s abundant – and release it back to the National Grid when demand is high.

It’s the smart way to balance the National Grid and increase green electricity generation, so one day our country can be solely and reliably powered by renewables.

All our plans come with 50% renewable electricity3 as standard. And if you’re ready to make the switch to using 100% renewable electricity in your home, you can with our Green Electricity Upgrade. Or, upgrade your plan to OVO Beyond to get the green energy and technology you need to supercharge your journey to zero carbon.

With the advent of new batteries, pumped hydro and bio-fuelled gas turbines, energy can be supplied flexibly, 24/7, to meet the demand. Smart technology can also be used to provide power, as the world of energy changes.

 

How we keep our fuel mix green

The fuel mix at OVO is simple. It’s made up of two things – renewables and natural gas. We don’t use nuclear power, coal or ‘other’ fuels.

We’re really proud that a huge 64.7% of our energy comes from renewables (that’s more than double the UK average). It’s clear proof of our commitment to building a greener, more sustainable energy system for the future.

We’re also chuffed that we’re not responsible for any high level radioactive waste. And that we’ve managed to half our CO2 emissions over the last 3 years, making them well below the national average.

Overall, our fuel mix picture is a positive one, and our customers can feel confident that they’ve made a green choice on all our plans. Better Energy, Simpler Energy and 2 Year Fixed Energy all include 50% renewable electricity3, and that amount can be bumped up to 100% with the Green Energy Upgrade.

 

Getting green energy into homes

Whatever way power is generated, it all gets mixed up together on the National Grid – which means no electricity supplier can trace the origins of the actual electricity from generator to customer. Luckily, the UK energy industry uses a certificate called a Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin. It shows how much renewable electricity it’s bought, versus how much it’s sold to customers. For the same reason, EU member states use GoOs.

So, although we can’t guarantee what ends up in your home will be the exact same renewable electricity we bought for you – no supplier can – we can show that for every unit you use, we’ve bought the equivalent amount of renewable electricity.

Our Green Electricity Upgrade gives you 100% renewable electricity to power your home, making it easier to do your bit for the environment. And, you can supercharge your journey to a lower carbon life with OVO Beyond.

 

1 If you’re signed up to our Green Energy, we purchase renewable certificates for 100% of your electricity use from green sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. Visit ovoenergy.com/ovo-fuel-mix for more information.

We aim to plant 5 trees on your behalf in green spaces over the UK through our I Dig Trees programme. From April 2017 to March 2018 we're aiming to plant at least 150,000 trees taking the total number of trees planted to over 500,000 trees since 2015. Find out more about I Dig Trees, here: /i-dig-trees

3 50% renewable electricity as standard as of 1st October 2019. Renewable electricity is generated from wind, solar, geothermal and hydro.

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