Energy: the Quick TourIntroduction: Energy is LifeEnergy: The BasicsForms of Energy/HowEnergy is MeasuredThe Rules of Energy-How Energy OperatesPrimary Energy Sources: Fuels at the Heart of the MatterEnergy Carriers: The Fuels in Our LivesFuels for the HomeFuels for Getting AroundEnergy Sources: Energy Choices

Primary Energy Sources – Fuels at the Heart of the Matter

We cannot create new energy (energy rule 1). We can only use the energy that was created when the universe formed approximately 14 billion years ago. The amount of energy in the universe is vast, but only a small fraction is available for our use. Fortunately, we have a lot of energy resources we can tap into.

Please click on each energy source for more information.

The primary energy sources are derived from: the sun, the earth’s heat,
the wind, water (rivers, lakes, tides, and oceans), fossil fuels - coal, oil, and natural gas, biomass, and radioactive minerals. Some other primary forms of energy, such as the earth’s magnetic field, lightning, and sound, are not listed, as they are not useful sources of energy for doing work.

Most of the primary forms of energy are not directly useful to us. Fuels we use every day, electricity and gasoline for example, are not listed. These are secondary forms of energy, also known as energy carriers, and they need to be made using these primary energy sources. Even natural gas, commonly used to heat our homes and cook our meals, needs some processing before it can be used as a fuel for your home. Secondary energy sources will be explored in the next section.

To learn more about these primary energy sources, click on each type on the Primary Energy Sources diagram. You will learn interesting facts about each primary form of energy.

As the figure below shows, most of the energy we use today comes from the nonrenewable fuels - oil, natural gas, coal and uranium - our source of nuclear energy. 7 percent of the energy in the U.S. comes from renewable energy sources. Even though 7 percent seems small, the U.S. is second in renewable energy production, and is first in renewable energy production from sources other than water (hydropower). Most of the natural gas, coal, nuclear energy and renewables used in the U.S., come from the U.S. Although the U.S. produces 40% of the oil it needs, 60% must be imported from other countries. This is known as our energy dependency.

Pie chart showing: Total=99.960 quadrillion BTU; Petroleum 40%; Natural Gas 23%; Coal 23%; Nuclear Energy 8%; Renewable Energy 7%. Total Renewable Energy=6.844 quadrillion BTU; Biomass 48%; Hydroelectric 42%; Geothermal 5%; Wind 4%; Solar 1%. Note: Sum of components may not equal 100 percent due to independent rounding. Source: EIA, Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity Preliminary 2006 Statistics (2007).

Even with today’s higher energy costs, the nonrenewable energy sources are generally more reliable, affordable and easier to store and transport than renewable energy resources. For renewable energy use to become more widely used, many technical hurdles must be overcome. Most hurdles have to do with the efficiency of tapping renewable energy, as well as producing and distributing renewable energy more reliably and economically.