We use a lot of energy every day so we need good supplies. Luckily, there are many sources of energy in nature. Some are renewable or can be replaced; like wind and solar energy. Others are non-renewable or limited; like coal, natural gas and oil.

what are fossil fuels?

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Coal, oil and natural gas are known as ‘fossil fuels’ because they come from plants and animals that died millions of years ago. Where did these fossil fuels first get their energy from? The sun, of course!

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It takes millions of years to create fossil fuels. Because it takes so long, fossil fuels are known as ‘non-renewable’ energy sources. They can’t be replaced in a short time (for example, our lifetime), so once they have been used up, that’s it.

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Fossil fuels can harm our environment. The process of mining them can be damaging to plants and animals, and the process of converting them to electricity can cause pollution.

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Australia currently gets most of its energy from fossil fuels; particularly coal, because we have a large natural supply. These sources will run out one day, so it’s important to find and use other energy sources.

This video shows the history of non-renewable and renewable energy.

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Renewable energy sources

What does ‘renewable’ mean?

It means that it won’t run out. The Sun will never stop shining (well, not for at least five billion years!), and the wind will keep on blowing. 

Energy from the Sun

The Sun gives us solar energy, the original source of most energy on Earth. Without the Sun’s energy, life as we know it wouldn’t exist. 

Energy from wind

On a windy day, we can capture the energy in wind. There are more and more wind farms being used to power towns and cities. 

Other types of renewable energy

Along with solar and wind energy, there are other types of renewable energy that we can use. These include hydro, geothermal and biomass energy.

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Turning coal into electricity

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To use the energy from a natural source like coal, we need to change it into a different form. Electricity is the form of energy we use the most.

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Coal is deep in the ground and getting the coal out is called Mining. Australia has large coal mines in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.

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Once the coal has been mined, it is sent to a power plant. Here, the coal is burned to heat water until it turns to steam. The steam drives a turbine that spins a generator shaft which gives us electricity.

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The electricity is carried to homes and businesses via power lines, and we use it for cooking, keeping food cold, washing clothes, heating our homes and more.

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Wrap up

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There are many different sources of energy on Earth, which we can change into forms of energy like electricity.

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Right now, fossil fuels are the main source of energy we use to power our homes, cars and industries. Fossil fuels include coal, natural gas and oil. These are ‘non-renewable’ because they can’t be replaced.

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Renewable energy comes from sources that won’t run out. Solar and wind energy are two examples of renewable energy.

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To turn a source of energy like coal into electricity, it is burned in a power plant. This heats water, creates steam, and spins a turbine which creates electricity.