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Learn about renewable and non-renewable energy.

This lesson includes:

  • one video
  • three activities


Our need for energy is growing as our world becomes more advanced.

Developing renewable energy sources is important as non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels cannot meet demand.

There are challenges for our governments to decide the best type of energy to use. People can also make changes to their homes so they can use more renewable energy.

Watch this film to find out about some DIY renewable energy ideas for the home.

Engineer Marty Jopson shows families how to use free renewable energy resources.

There are creative solutions for making changes to the home. However, the UK as a whole has to plan for the best way to work with renewable and non-renewable energy.

Fossil fuels

Oil, gas and coal are the main fossil fuels that we use.

Advantages of fossil fuels

  • They generate large amounts of energy quite cheaply.
  • Locating where fossil fuels are is quite easy.
  • Oil and gas can be transported through pipelines.

Disadvantages of fossil fuels

  • They release carbon dioxide when they are burnt, creating pollution.
  • Carbon dioxide contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • Mining can be dangerous, especially as the most easily accessible deposits are used up.
  • Oil spills can cause environmental damage.
  • Supplies are running out and new sources are harder to get to. Oil and gas are both predicted to run out within 100 years.
Coal is one type of fossil fuel.

Nuclear power

The UK has 15 nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power is created from the release of energy from nuclear reactions. These reactions usually use uranium or plutonium. A relatively small amount of fuel is required to produce the energy. Most by-products of the reactions are radioactive. There is a debate about whether or not nuclear power should be used.

It is non-renewable but it produces far less emissions than fossil fuels.

Advantages of nuclear power

  • Only small amounts of fuel needed to produce lots of energy compared to fossil fuels.
  • Low carbon emissions.
  • Tends to be supported by large companies and governments.
  • Once up and running it is cheap to produce electricity.
  • There has been a lot of investment in making sure it is as safe as possible.

Disadvantages of nuclear power

  • Nuclear waste is highly radioactive.
  • Accidents and leaks can be deadly and last for a long time.
  • Storing nuclear waste is very expensive.
  • Decommissioning nuclear power stations is very expensive.
  • Uranium and plutonium are not renewable so will run out.

Nuclear disasters

Chernobyl - in 1986 an explosion at the nuclear power station in Chernobyl in Ukraine killed 56 people and released radiation, causing thousands of deaths. Chernobyl is still heavily contaminated. Forest land of 4 sq km was killed, and fish and animals as far away as Scandinavia and Wales were also affected.

Fukishima - In 2011 a huge earthquake caused a tsunami off the coast of Japan. This resulted in damage to several nuclear reactors in Fukushima. It took months for engineers to make the station safe. It is estimated to be the most expensive disaster in history.

Scientists wearing safety clothing near the Fukishima nuclear plant.
There are many types of energy resources including fossil fuels, wind and the Sun.

Renewable energy

There are many different types of renewable energy including:

  • hydroelectric
  • wind
  • solar
  • biomass

Hydroelectric power

This is energy created by channeling the power of water.

U-shaped valleys with steep-sided hanging sides formed from glaciation are a good environment to create hydroelectric power. Cwm Dyli is the location of a hydroelectric power station at the foot of Snowdon. Llyn Llydaw, a corrie(a bowl-shaped hollow area formed by glaciation) over 300 m above Cwm Dyli, receives high rainfall. Water flows down to Cwm Dyli generating hydroelectric power.

Dinorwig power station stores energy when there is an excess amount within the national grid. It releases the energy back into the grid when there are peak demands.

How it works

Water is held in a reservoir of Marchlyn Mawr on the Elidir Mountain. Llyn Peris is a larger lake, lower down. Water released from the top reservoir creates energy as it flows. This energy feeds the national electricity grid at peak times. The electricity can be supplied within 10 seconds of the demand. The water is pumped back up to the top reservoir using energy from the national grid. It is pumped up during periods of low electricity demand, usually at night.

Diagram showing how the hydro electric power station works.


Activity 1

Non-renewable and renewable energy quiz

How much do you know about the different types of energy? Check your knowledge in this Bitesize quiz.

Activity 2

Energy activity

Make your way through the worksheet, looking at the image and answering the questions on energy.

Read more about alternative energy sources from Britannica School.

Energy and the environment

Activity 3

Biofuel activities

Biofuel is cheap to produce and is a renewable source of energy made by fermenting crops like sugar cane, rapeseed, corn and palm oil.

Watch this film about Biofuels and then test your knowledge with quizzes from Twig.

Learn more about biofuels

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about energy.

Click on the links below to find out more:

There's more to learn

Bitesize Daily lessons
KS3 Geography
Quiz: Bitesize taste of the world with Bake Off's Alice Fevronia
KS3 Geography
More Geography resources
Watch Frozen Planet