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Together in electrical dreams The energy history across the UK from fossil fuels to Net Zero

There’s a global movement to reduce carbon emissions better and to prevent climate catastrophe, such as COP26 last year showed. Energy is a vital part of this endeavor. The story of the shift from fossil fuels such as oil and coal to cleaner, renewable and nuclear energy sources is sure to make historical books. But where did the energy source come from? What’s the history of the use of energy by humans? What’s the reason? Understanding where energy comes from helps us understand how we can harness it in the future to improve our lives and our planet for the better.

At first, there was sun, water and wood

The sun and water were the first sources of energy for life on earth. Then, the first humans began burning wood for heat. A bit later still they used water flowing to make mills turn.

Fossil fuels and the beginning of coal

When they invaded Britain around 43 AD, the Romans discovered that coal offered better heat than wood. They utilized it to heat baths , and to forge iron battle equipment and ornaments. In the middle ages between the 11th and 13th centuries charcoal helped to speed up the first industries of production of bricks and glass. The wood was used for fuel but also used in shipbuilding, which raised prices. In fact, there was an energy crisis around 1550 because of an insufficient supply of firewood which lasted to the end of the 17th century. It was during this time when coal mining took off as it was cheaper and more readily available than wood as an energy source.

Burn baby burn – the very first electric power source for transportation and industry

The Industrial Revolution was the new age for human-generated, coal-powered electricity. From 1750, coal was used to power tools and machines and by 1752 Benjamin Franklin is credited with discovering the power of electricity from sparks that lightning strikes produced.

In 1769, James Watt patented the world’s first coal-powered steam engine. With that came powerful and efficient machinery for mills and factories. Between the years 1769-1801, British manufacturing of coal increased by a third – and that was only the start of its rapid growth growing from 12,000,000 Megatonnes in 1800 to nearly 300 million Mt in 1913.

What year did UK start using gas?

In 1812 Frederick Winsor created the first company worldwide to construct public gas works and distribute gas through pipeline networks. This opened the markets for gas but also change the lives of millions in a positive way by giving the ability to have reliable lighting heating, energy and heat. (Pretty amazing when you consider that this is also the period Britain was fighting Napoleon!)

Gas was used to illuminate London’s streets and by 1827, London’s network had gas for nearly 70,000 streetlights.
Let there be light – and heat, everywhere! The Victorian period

The Victorian period witnessed huge improvements in the field of energy throughout the world. The first hydroelectric plant was running within Cragside situated in UK. The world’s first coal-fired power station, known as the Edison Electric Light Station, was constructed in London in 1882. It was the first to bring light and warmth to London residences.

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Stable and sturdy, The National Grid opens its doors

The 20th century brought an explosion of energy innovation. Electricity was being pumped into homes and businesses through electricity pylons.

First interconnected National Grid launched in 1935. Rather than having a host of small power stations seven grid zones were established within Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, London and Glasgow. Through the National Grid, energy supplies improved and became more reliable.

Reduced carbon emissions UK renewable energy

1958 witnessed an initial US satellite to use solar energy to power its operations. However, in UK coal and gas were the main sources of energy in the last decade of the 1900s. In 1960, the majority of all electricity was generated by coal. However, during the 1970s the attention paid to the climate crisis shed light on pollution from fossil fuels as well as the necessity for renewable, cleaner energy.

Wind power

Wind energy is a low carbon and abundant energy source that will never be exhausted. This makes it an important part of the future energy mix – especially when new technologies, such as battery storage, are developed to make renewable energy sources more secure. The first wind farm in the world opened in New Hampshire in 1980, immediately following by the UK’s very first wind farm in the year 1991, situated on the windy Cornish coast. Wind power is the biggest source of renewable energy for the UK. EDF owns and operates 36 wind farms, which includes two off-shore wind farms that span the UK.

Solar power

Solar power was an extremely small percentage of the production of electricity in the UK prior to the 2010s, when it increased significantly. The first solar farm of this size in the UK, a 32 MW solar farm, was constructed in November 2012. This farms is in Leicestershire, between and the airfields that used to be a military one, Wymeswold.

At present in the UK, the renewable energy industry is growing thanks to increased investments and production. This year was a landmark, when for the first time, in both the UK as well as the US the energy sector was produced from carbon-free sources than from fossil fuels. Through the use of a mix of nuclear and renewable sources to power us, we’re in a position to reach our 2050 UK goal of net zero emissions total.

Nuclear energy in the UK

Britain was the location of the first industrial-scale nuclear power station in the 50s, and over the course of the past 60 years it has continued to contribute to the UK’s energy mix as the most reliable, low carbon energy source available to the UK. In the year 2020, EDF’s eight nuclear power stations generated enough electricity that was low carbon to power 44 percent of UK homes. We’re proud to be Britain’s largest generator of electricity from nuclear, wind, and solar.

A future of Net Zero carbon emissions

In its position as one of top UK renewable energy firms, EDF Renewables runs wind solar, battery storage and solar projects throughout the UK. Around 20% of the electricity in the UK is produced by the eight nuclear power stations we operate and we’re currently building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C, and we’re planning to build a second one at Sizewell C. To help Britain attain Net Zero it is essential to make things more efficient and use less energy. We’re here to assist – helping people to find the tips to use the tools, equipment and technology they require to reduce the carbon.

Do your part to ensure Net Zero

There are many ways you can make in your home to cut down on carbon footprint. Small adjustments can make the biggest difference in your carbon footprint

Your home can be heated the low carbon method

Cut your home’s carbon footprint and cut down on your energy bills through electric heating and home insulation.

Drive electric

The use of electric vehicles and others (EVs) will help cut the emissions from Britain’s carbon footprint. We’ve got everything you need to get electric vehicles – leasing deals with home charging points as well as Tarifes for electric vehicles to fit your lifestyle.

Find a smart meter

Smart meters monitor the energy you use in real-time, showing your how much energy you’re using and when it’s measured in pounds and pence.