How Much Pollution Do Power Stations Produce?

Posted on 20th March 2015

There's a lot of focus in the press these days about how we can make our homes, travel and workplaces more environmentally friendly. With energy prices that remain high, energy providers are usually the first to give out tips to keep your bills down, but at AMA we thought it was time to turn the focus back on them.

 

It's true that some power is produced in relatively green ways; wind power, hydroelectric plants and solar power all contributing to the UK's grid. But, despite the efforts of environmentalists and generations of politicians both at home and abroad, the polluting production of electricity continues. We decided to take a look into just how much pollution our power stations produce, and what the future holds for them.

 

The Facts About Power Stations

In the UK, as in many countries, power comes from a wide variety of sources. At any given time, the majority of our electricity is still provided by oil and coal power stations, which produce a relatively high amount of pollution, followed by nuclear energy and wind farms. The GridWatch website (http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk) provides an accurate real-time view of how much energy the UK is using and where it is coming from.

 

The ratio of energy supplied by each method varies throughout the year depending on demand and on fuel cost, though oil power remains leader throughout. In the future, with companies trying to keep up with green energy subsidies provided by government, it is predicted that many power stations will either start to adapt their operation to cleaner methods, or close and be replaced by newer models.

 

A lot has been said in the past about what the future holds for energy production, but fluctuating markets make future needs and supply difficult to predict. The graph below, provided by Friends of the Earth shows one prediction of how energy production and pollution will change over the next few years:

 

Often though, many people believe that forays into green energy are misguided and fueled only by the need to hit targets and attain subsidies. Wind power is famously controversial, as many people who live near turbines claim that they are an eyesore, whilst it has been shown that waste incinerators can actually be more polluting than gas power stations.

 

 

Experimental Power Production

 

With existing eco-friendly methods often throwing up problems, either with local people or with their green credentials, governments and institutions are looking for new ways to save power and money.

 

In 2013 it was announced that a new fat-burning station would be built in London, powering nearly 40,000 homes, a local sewage plant and selling excess to the National Grid. Whilst some pollution will be produced, the plant will essentially run on renewable energy as its fuel will be grease and fat collected from nearby restaurants, businesses and factories.

 

Some new plans involve not just cutting down on pollution from power stations, but capturing the actual heat and steam produced by the plant. It's estimated that the heat lost through power station cooling towers is significantly more than all the heat gained from gas used to heat British homes. It's thought we could save billions of pounds each year in the UK by simply capturing the heat that stations pump into the air, and funneling it into our homes in the place of heating.

 

Small-scale versions of this heat capture method, known as CHP (combined heat and power), in use across the UK and Europe. The NHS runs small CHP programs in some larger hospitals, and much of Downing Street and Whitehall are heated using a similar method, whilst nearly half of all buildings in Denmark are kept warm in this way. Adopting CHP across the UK could, it's claimed, increase our energy efficiency massively from 40% to 90%, though sadly the scheme has apparently fallen out of favour with governments.

 

Hopefully in the future power stations will continue to clean up their acts, and those that don't will be replaced by new, green alternatives.