Where our energy comes from

There are different energy sources in the world and the stores of energy associated with them can contain different amounts of energy. For example, nuclear fuel stores can contain very large amounts of energy, while hydroelectric stores tend to contain much less energy.

Nine different energy resources, fossil fuels, nuclear, bio, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, tides, sun, water waves; illustrated around a main label.

Some energy sources are renewable, which means they can be replenished and will not run out. Other energy sources are non-renewable, which means they will eventually run out when all their reserves have been depleted (used up).

The table below shows the main features of the most common energy sources used today.

Energy resourceEnergy store Renewable or non-renewableUsesPower outputImpact on environment
Fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gases)ChemicalNon- renewableTransport, heating, electricity generationHigh Releases CO2, which contributes to global warming.
Nuclear fuels NuclearNon-renewableElectricity generationVery high Produces radioactive waste which needs to be disposed of safely.
BiofuelChemical Renewable Transport, heating, electricity generationMedium'Carbon neutral' - little or no effect on the environment. Although growing biofuels can take up land that could be used for farming.
WindKineticRenewableElectricity generationVery lowTurbines take up large areas that could be used for farming. Some people say windmills spoil the view.
HydroelectricityGravityRenewableElectricity generationMediumLocal habitats are affected by the large areas that need to be flooded to build dams.
TidesKineticRenewableElectricity generationPotentially very high, but hard to harnessTidal barrages can block sewage which needs to go out to sea.
SunNuclearRenewableElectricity generation and heatingDependant on the weather and only available during daylightImpact on environment is very low.

Resources compared

Power stations

  • Very reliable sources of energy – this is part of the reason why these types of energy are relied upon to provide much of the country's electricity.
  • They operate almost continuously. When additional power is needed, gas power stations are usually used because they will activate very quickly and start generating electricity almost immediately.
  • The fuel for nuclear power stations is relatively cheap, but the power stations themselves are expensive to build.

Renewable sources

  • Examples of renewables include wind, solar, hydroelectric power.
  • No fuel costs, but the equipment used is expensive to build.
  • Many of the sources are unreliable. For example, wind and solar energy are dependent on the weather and cannot respond to increased demand.
  • Water power, ie tidal and hydroelectric, are reliable because their sources (the Moon's gravitational effect on the tide and rainfall that fills reservoirs) are regular and predictable occurrences. These types of energy can also be used to supply additional demand.
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