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Energy Sources: Where Does Our Energy Come From?

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There is an abundance of energy all around us. Over the past century, humans have learned how to tap into these energy sources in order to power our homes and businesses, as well as the manufacturing and transportation of goods and services all over the globe. Energy resources have become such an ingrained part of everyday life, but where does it all come from? There are many different ways in which energy can be stored, converted, and amplified for our use. Here are some of the most common energy sources being used today.

Different Modern Energy Sources

Fossil Fuels

There are many types of fossil fuels, but those that are most readily recognizable as energy sources are oil (petroleum), natural gas, and coal. All three are considered nonrenewable resources, meaning that once taken from the Earth, they cannot be replenished in a reasonable amount of time. These are all known as fossil fuels because they were formed from the buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Fossil fuels have been widely used as an energy resource since the Industrial Revolution. They are relatively easy to use to generate energy via combustion, which releases the energy stored in the fuel as heat. However, they have a huge impact on their environment. Not only do they have to be dug up out of the Earth, but their combustion leads to a great deal of pollution.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy comes from sources of energy that can be replenished naturally in a short period of time. One of the oldest and most established sources of renewable energy is biomass energy, which is simply the conversion of the stored energy of plants into an energy resource we can use. Geothermal energy uses the intense heat within the Earth to create electricity. Wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy use those natural resources of wind, sun, and water to generate power. The main benefits of all these energy sources is their environmental cleanliness and that they’re inexhaustible. However, technologies are still being developed to increase the efficiency and viability of these resources for modern use.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is created by a technology by which scientists harness the power of the atom. It’s essentially the energy contained in the nucleus, or core, of the atom. This energy can either be released by the methods of nuclear fusion or nuclear fission. While methods of fusion—whereby atoms are combined or fused together to form a larger atom and create energy in the process—is the subject of ongoing research, the process of fission that splits the atoms apart is currently used in nuclear power plants. The long-term problem with this energy source is that uranium, a common metal, is used because its atoms are easily split apart, and uranium is a nonrenewable resource that must be mined. Furthermore, it produces radioactive wastes that must be disposed of.

In terms of energy sources, our options are quite varied, although some carry more long-term consequences. However, as technologies make more sustainable options increasingly viable, we will need to weigh the efficiency of the energy source versus its potential long-term consequences.

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