Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels are a finite resource, meaning that they cannot be replaced once extracted from the ground. In 2015, 80 per cent of energy consumed in the world came from fossil fuels. In early 2018, the UK's dependence on fossil fuels was at a low of 77 per cent. Examples include:

  • coal
  • natural gas
  • oil
How energy sources are generated and transported, shown on land by road for coal, and sea by pipe and boat for gas and oil.


Use of coal for electricity generation in the UK has fallen since 2012. This energy is created through the burning of coal, which is usually crushed first. The hot coal heats water, turning it into steam. The steam builds up to a very high pressure and this is used to spin a turbine. The turbine is connected to an electrical generator, which creates electricity.

Coal is a store of chemical energy stored as heat energy in water and steam. This is transferred through a turbine to a generator and transferred as electricity.
Advantages of coalDisadvantages of coal
Enough coal on Earth to last hundreds of yearsProduces carbon dioxide when burned, contributing to global warming
Produces high amounts of energyDamage is caused to natural land when mining takes place

Natural gas

In 2017, natural gas accounted for over 30 per cent of the UK's energy production. It is used for heating and cooking and is one of the main sources of powers for electricity production in the UK.

A close-up image of a vegetable steamer on a gas hob with an open flame.
Gas hob

It is most commonly produced off-shore and transported through pipelines to a gas-powered electricity power station. In the UK there are shale gas deposits. Shale gas is obtained using a process known as fracking, which involves cracking large rocks underground. There is a lot of discussion about whether or not this process should be used, with concerns around damage to land and the release of harmful gases.

Advantages of natural gasDisadvantages of natural gas
It emits less carbon dioxide than coal or oilGas is highly flammable - if there is a gas leak, an explosion can easily happen
The UK has shale gas depositsExtracting gas might cause the pollution of water


Very little of the UK’s electricity comes from oil as it is mainly used for fuel or is turned into plastics. However, a very small amount is burned to heat water, creating steam, to generate electricity.

Advantages of oilDisadvantages of oil
A small amount of oil can produce a lot of energyCreates significant air pollution when burned
It is relatively easy to store and transportConsiderable impact on water, land use and disposal