Each of these energy sources has a number of advantages and disadvantages with regard to competitiveness, security of supply and impact on climate and environment.
The energy mix in electricity generation (2008)
|Biomass & waste 3
|Natural gas 24
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The basis of any electricity generating system is its base load power. It is typically generated by nuclear power plants, certain combustion plants and hydro power plants designed specifically for this purpose.
In addition to this, regulating power is needed in order to meet variations in electricity consumption. This power is also important for maintaining high quality in the electricity grid. Energy sources used for regulating power are primarily hydro and combustion plants.
Combustion plants are also used for generating peak load power at times when the demand for electricity is particularly high.
Renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar or wave power, often have an intermittent or irregular output depending on weather and wind conditions. An increase in the use of intermittent power in the electricity system often leads to an increased need for regulating power.
By using biomass instead of fossil fuels, CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced, but supply of larger volumes is currently difficult to secure. Using biomass to produce electricity is also currently more expensive than using energy sources such as coal, gas or nuclear power
Coal power provides stable and large-scale electricity generation at a competitive cost, and coal is available in abundant supply. Coal power plants do, however, emit high levels of CO2.
Hydro power is the leading renewable energy source in the EU, and causes almost no emissions. Hydro power plants provide large-scale and stable electricity generation, and also functions as balancing power, since capacity can be rapidly changed. Constructing a new power plant requires a substantial investment, but its economic life is long.
Combustion of natural gas emits less CO2 than other fossil fuels. It is a more expensive energy source than other fossil fuels and the price varies significantly. Supplies can be somewhat uncertain, and some regions that export natural gas face political instability.
Nuclear power emits low levels of CO2, but the spent, highly radioactive nuclear fuel requires storage in secure facilities for a very long time. Nuclear power provides stable and large-scale electricity generation. The construction of a new nuclear power plant requires major investments.
Oil can be used to produce electricity and/or heat in different kinds of power plants. Oil is often used only as a peak-load fuel when other plants have problems or cannot deliver enough energy, for instance during cold winter days.
Solar energy is a fast-growing, renewable energy source that generates very low emissions. The potential for solar energy is substantial if the technology is developed for large-scale production, with lower manufacturing costs.
Wind power emits no CO2 and is the fastest growing source of energy in the EU. Wind turbines have an impact on the landscape, which some people find disturbing. Wind power has no fuel costs, though total cost is high due to significant investment costs and the need for network capacity investments for new wind farms. Today, wind power is largely dependent on support systems.