Renewable Energy Top Trumps

At Bulb we love renewable energy and working with people who produce it.
And it got us thinking- which renewable energy source would come out on top?

Of course we think they’re all great, but we’ve created some Renewable Energy Top Trumps to compare them across certain categories.

We’ve split them up into:

  • Contribution to the grid- where does it stand right now in terms of contributions to our energy consumption in the UK?

  • Reliability - how much can we count on them to contribute to the grid?

  • Installation cost- how much would it cost to have one at your home?

  • Maintenance cost- how much would it cost to keep it working at your home?

  • Environmental impacts- are there any downsides to these types of generation?

  • Environmental benefits- how is this helping the planet?


So, let’s start with solar

Sunlight is one of our planet’s most abundant sources (although sometimes it may not feel like it in the UK). The total amount of solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface in one hour holds the capacity to power more than the planet’s total energy requirements for one year. The limitation of this power comes with capturing and storing it.

Contribution to the grid- Solar power’s contribution so far remains the lowest of the 3 renewables but it did set a record for the highest generation yet in 2020 so it’s looking bright for the future!

Reliability- This is primarily down to the UK not being the sunniest place on earth but also their limited capacity to store power unless a battery is set up

Installation Cost- Solar is one of the most affordable options and well suited to domestic setups. It also comes with the Export and FiT benefits

Maintenance Cost- This is very low for solar over their 30± year lifespan. They should also come with warranties that cover any issues within the first 10-25 years.

Environmental Impact- Solar power fields require vast amounts of land which can be impacted by being built on and the manufacturing process is not yet entirely clean, but as they last so long this arguably balances out

Environmental Benefit- Solar power generates 0 carbon emissions when it’s generating power and the low maintenance is good news for the production value as one PV panel lasts a very long time.

We’ve written more about solar power and where it’s heading if you’re interested!


Getting blown away by wind power

Wind is another plentiful source of green energy. Wind farms are becoming increasingly familiar sights whether you’re driving through the scottish highlands, or having a beach day on the Kent coast as the UK is considered to be one of the best locations for wind power in the world and the best in Europe. To harness electricity from wind energy, turbines are used to drive generators which then feed electricity into the National Grid.

The UK government has started massively investing in wind power so perhaps this could be a contender for the biggest contributor to renewable energy in the near future- watch this space.

Contribution to the grid- Wind power is a high contributor to the grid for renewable energy. In 2020 the record for the highest ever wind generation was broken several times. It has steadily surpassed coal and nuclear as contributors to the national grid.

Reliability- This is the main source of renewable power with both off-shore and on-shore wind farms powering our homes, however the downside is variability. If wind speed is too low then the wind turbines will not be able to make electricity, and if it is too high the turbines will have to be shut down to avoid damage. When this happens, other power sources must have the capacity to meet demand.

Installation Cost- The average cost of a roof mounted wind turbine would be around £2000 plus maintenance costs. If it’s a free standing wind turbine, this would cost about £7000 minimum, but it is a great way to produce electricity for your home with the benefit of FiT. Not every home is suitable though so most wind power seems to be kept to commercial farms.

Maintenance Cost- This is pretty low- the Energy Savings Trust estimate that this could cost £100 to £200 per year.

Environmental Impact- There have been some reported issues with birds and bats when it comes to wind turbines. Most of these problems have been resolved through technology development or by properly siting wind plants.

Environmental Benefit- Wind power produces 0 carbon emissions when generating power. It is a really clean energy source and doesn’t produce any waste or pollution during operation. With proper siting, it is an efficient use of land so the land can still be used for other things.


Happier with Hydro?

Hydropower holds a lot of potential as water is one of the most powerful forces on earth. By building dams or barriers, a reservoir can be controlled to harness a flow of water to drive a turbine, generating electricity.

This can often be more reliable than solar or wind as it’s not dependent on the wider weather system- particularly if it’s tidal! It also has the capacity to store energy which can be difficult with solar in particular.

Contribution to the grid- This currently is quite low within the UK despite it being popular globally, though it still pipped solar to the post in 2020 with 2.9% of power on the grid being produced from hydro with only 1.5% from solar.

Reliability- Hydropower is an extremely flexible resource. It can supply electricity or store it so it acts as the ultimate grid stabiliser. It can address peak demands and maintain proper voltage levels and frequencies across the grid. Because hydropower is flexible and can store energy, it’s complementary to other forms of generation so works well alone and in tandem.

Installation Cost- The installation costs of a hydroelectric power system are more expensive with costs ranging from £25k to £50k for the smallest 5 kWh system, though it does also come with the benefit of the FiT. If you had a stream at your property this may work for you as a 10 kWh system can provide enough power for a small farm, but this does depend on the amount of power coming from that flowing water!

Maintenance Cost- These costs are also higher with annual running costs around £1000 minimum according to the renewable energy hub.

Environmental Impact- Hydropower requires the damming of rivers and streams which can disrupt the habitats of some animals, fish and plants.

Environmental Benefit- As with the other sources, there are 0 carbon emissions with hydro power. In addition to being a sustainable fuel source, hydropower produces other benefits such as flood control, irrigation and water supply.


We’d love to know which top trump would you pick as best of the renewables- it’s hydropower for me, but perhaps you’d choose one of the others :thinking:

Let us know!

:ocean: :sun_behind_small_cloud: :wind_face:

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