The UK has always been fortunate in having its own energy resources. In the Middle Ages, fast flowing rivers were used to turn water wheels. In the early 19th century the use of steam by burning coal enabled Britain to become the worlds first industrialised country. By the mid 20th century, it was believed that, due to the increasing amount of consumption of coal, the cheapest and most accessible sources of coal were about to run short.
However, in 1965 and 1970 respectively, natural gas and oil reserves were discovered in the North Sea and improvements in technology after the discovery of the atomic bomb enabled the controversial production of nuclear power, and so a dramatic change in the use of resources occurred. As a direct consequence of these new resources, the employment structure of the UK has also changed, as in 1947 there were over 718400 people employed in coal mining in the UK whereas this figure reduced to less than 11000 by 1994.
Looking at figures that show the changing proportions of British industry clear patterns can be seen over the last 50 years. The proportion of coal clearly decreases from over 90% in 1950 to about 33% in 1990. It is predicted that this figure will decrease by another 3% by 2005. Between 1950 and 1990, both the use of oil and natural gas have risen, as from 1950 imported oil constituted less than 10% of the UK's total energy need and natural gas was not in common use in the UK at this point. However in 1990, oil makes up approximately 45% of the UK's energy and natural gas 14%. By the year 2020 they are both predicted to make up over 60% of the total energy consumption in the UK.
The use of non-renewable resources has not been without consequences. The large amount of coal consumption in the UK has meant a dramatic increase in the amount of acid rain produced, causing widespread devastation to the environment over Europe. The burning of oil through road transport has been a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and although gas produces less pollution than the other two it is not used as much because it does not create as much energy.
Advances in technology have allowed the development of alternative, renewable resources that pollute the atmosphere much less and allow in theory, an infinite amount of energy to be produced because there is a constant source of the resource.
The use of renewable resources I the UK has increased slightly over the past 50 years yet still only contribute 7% of the energy used in the UK. Due to environmental concerns these types of resource are being increasingly used and researched into, but there are many drawbacks which often mean that the schemes are unworkable such as cost, planning, land space and maintenance. The details of two renewable resource schemes in the UK will now be discussed
There has been a proposed site for the development of a tidal power station situated on the Bristol Channel in the UK. This scheme would include up to 3 barrages placed across the estuary in order to harness the energy of the rising and falling tide. This scheme seems to be a good idea at first but it is easy to see the arguments against the scheme due to each barrage costing up to 4000 million, taking decades to build and the concerns from environmentalists about the marshlands that would be flooded, destroying the habitats of many birds and animals. On the plus side, it would create thousands of jobs and provide 6-12% of the UK's energy demand. Put simply it would provide the power of 5 nuclear power stations at 6 times the cost. Perhaps a better alternative is already in progress in the UK is the use of wind turbines. There are currently 21 wind farms in the UK, mostly along the West Coast to take advantages of the prevailing winds from the Atlantic. The main problem with this scheme is the low amount of energy that the wind turbine creates compared with the space that it takes up. In order to produce the same amount of energy as produced by the nuclear power stations in the UK you would need over 100000 wind farms in the UK which would take up too much space and be too expensive to set up.