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Resources used to make electricity

You probably know that most of the electricity you use is produced in a power plant and travels to your home and school through special wires. But do you know what energy sources are used to run power plants?

Energy resources can be divided into two categories: nonrenewable and renewable.

Nonrenewable resources

CoalA nonrenewable resource is a resource that can be used up. Fossil fuels, which include coal, oil and natural gas, are nonrenewable because it took millions of years for them to form. Once we use up our fossil fuels, they will be gone for good.

Many power plants use fossil fuels. The fossil fuel is burned to produce heat, which is used to make steam. The steam is then used to turn the blades of a turbine.

Some power plants run on nuclear power, which is another nonrenewable resource.

Nuclear power plants rely on uranium, a type of metal that is mined from the ground and specially processed. Heat released from splitting uranium atoms is used to convert water into steam that turns turbines.

Renewable resources

A renewable resource is fairly easy to replace. Renewable energy resources include wood, wind, sunshine, geothermal energy, biomass and water stored behind dams in lakes and reservoirs. Electricity can be produced using several kinds of renewable resources.

Wind turbinesWind energy can produce electricity in regions where steady winds blow. Giant wind turbines capture the wind's energy and use it to power generators.

Biomass is material that is formed from living organisms, such as wood or agricultural wastes. Biomass can be burned to produce electricity, or converted to a gas and used for fuel.

Geothermal energy uses hot water or steam from deep beneath the earth's surface to produce electricity.

Hydroelectric power is generated using the energy created by falling water to spin the generator turbines of hydroelectric power plants and make electricity.

Solar energy can also be used to produce electricity. Solar cells change the radiant energy of the sun into electrical energy. Some calculators and portable radios are powered by solar cells. Solar panels, or modules, placed on a rooftop can supply electricity to the building below.

Fossil fuels. Fuels formed in the ground from the remains of dead plants and animals. It takes millions of years to form fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas and coal are fossil fuels. Gasoline and diesel fuel are made from fossil fuels.
Coal. A solid fossil fuel found in the earth. Coal is burned to make electricity.
Oil. A liquid fuel found deep in the earth. Gasoline and some plastics are made from oil.
Natural gas. A fossil fuel found deep in the earth. Natural gas is often found with oil.
Turbine. A device used in the generation of electricity. It has a shaft with blades at one end and electromagnets at the other. Water, steam or some other energy source pushes the blades; this makes the shaft and the magnets spin very fast. The magnet end is surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire, and the spinning magnets cause electrons in the wire to begin to move, creating electricity.
Nuclear energy or nuclear power. Energy that is released from splitting atoms of radioactive materials (such as uranium) and then harnessed to generate electricity.
Reservoirs. Natural or artificial ponds or lakes used for the storage of water.
Solar cells. Solar cells collect sunlight and convert it into electricity.
Radiant energy. Any form of energy radiating from a source, such as heat from the sun or a campfire, or light from a bulb.
Electrical energy. A form of energy that arises from the flow of electrons.
Solar panel. A device that collects energy from the sun and converts it to electricity. Solar panels are also known as “modules.”