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6 Sources of Electric Energy

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Wind turbines stand behind a solar power park
Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Electricity is energy that has been harnessed and refined from a wide range of sources and is suitable for diverse uses. Here are six common energy sources used to make electricity:

  • Chemical energy. This is stored, or “potential,” energy. Releasing chemical energy from in carbon-based fuels generally requires combustion – for example the burning of coal, oil, natural gas, or a biomass such as wood.
  • Thermal energy. Typical sources of thermal energy are heat from underground hot springs, combustion of fossil fuels and biomass (per above) or industrial processes.
  • Kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is movement, which occurs when water moves with tides or flows downstream, or when air moves wind turbines in the wind.
  • Nuclear energy. This is the energy stored in the bonds inside atoms and molecules. When nuclear energy is released, it can emit radioactivity and heat (thermal energy) as well.
  • Rotational energy. This is the energy of spinning, typically produced by mechanical devices such as flywheels.
  • Solar energy. Energy radiates from the sun and the light rays can be captured with photovoltaics and semiconductors. Mirrors can be used to concentrate the power, and the sun’s heat is also a thermal source.
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