Non-Renewable Sources of Energy

Non renewable means that it will one day run out.  The vast majority of energy used to generate electricity comes from fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels are formed from dead plants and animals which have been buried under sediments for millions of years.  Fossil fuels are found in layers of sedimentary rock and are found as either a solid, liquid or gas.

Coal is formed from dead plants under what was previously a swamp before dinosaurs roamed the earth.   

Oil and gas are formed from dead sea creatures and can be found under the bedrock in oceans and on land beneath what was previously the sea.  They are usually found together.


  • Formed from fossilised plants and consisting of carbon with various organic and some inorganic compounds.

  • Mined from seams of coal, found sandwiched between layers of rock in the earth.

  • Burnt to provide heat or electricity.

  • Ready-made fuel.

  • It is relatively cheap to mine and to convert into energy.

  • Coal supplies will last longer than oil or gas.

  • When burned coal gives off atmospheric pollutants, including greenhouse gases.



  • A carbon-based liquid formed from fossilised animals.

  • Lakes of oil are sandwiched between seams of rock in the earth.

  • Pipes are sunk down to the reservoirs to pump the oil out.

  • Widely used in industry and transport.

  • Oil is a ready-made fuel.

  • Relatively cheap to extract and to convert into energy.

  • When burned, it gives off atmospheric pollutants, including greenhouse gases.

  • Only a limited supply.

Natural gas

  • Methane and some other gases trapped between seams of rock under the earth's surface usually found with oil in oil fields under the oceans.

  • Pipes are sunk into the ground to release the gas.

  • Often used in houses.

  • Gas is a ready-made fuel.

  • It is a relatively cheap form of energy.

  • It's a slightly cleaner fuel than coal and oil.

  • When burned, it gives off atmospheric pollutants, including greenhouse gases.

  • Only limited supply of gas.

Coal mining

Global Supply and Demand

South Africa generates the majority of its electricity by burning coal at 66% and and only uses renewables to generate 7.6%.  South Africa uses crude oil to generate 22% of its electricity.

China is the uses coal to generate 73% of its electricity and is also the world's leader in using renewable sources to generate 16% of its electricity.

Energy in the USA is mostly generated using fossil fuels: 80% and 10% comes from renewables.  


Electrical generation in the USA by fuel type.

The United Kingdom generates the majority of its electricity by burning natural gas.  The use of coal has dropped to just 9% since the 1990's.  Nuclear power is used to generate 20% of the electrical demand and the use of renewables accounts for approximately 22%.  

Electrical generation in the UK by fuel type.

Most countries are moving away from generating electricity by burning fossil fuels because these resources are running out and because the gases released when they are burnt are major contributors to both global warming and acid rain

All images and graphs, unless otherwise stated,  have been downloaded from

  • YouTube
  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Pinterest Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon


All images sourced from unless otherwise stated