Sources of electrical energy

Electrical energy is produced from many different energy sources. Some of these energy sources are renewable and others are non-renewable.

Power plants

Most of the electricity used in Australia is made from power plants that burn fossil fuels to create steam. The main type of fuel used is coal, because it allows large amounts of electricity to be produced in one place.

Coal currently accounts for over 70 per cent of Australia’s electric power. Electricity is generated through coal-fired power stations. Coal is a non-renewable source which means it will eventually run out. It is important we preserve our coal resources and look for more environmentally friendly ways of producing electricity.

Renewable energy

There are other ways of generating electricity by using natural resources that can be replaced or renewed without harming the environment or contributing to the greenhouse effect. 

Presently 89 per cent of Australia’s electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels, 74 per cent from coal and 15 per cent from natural gas. Renewable energy is used to generate 11 per cent of electricity. Of those renewable energy sources hydropower is the biggest contributor contributing around 6 per cent of total electricity. The remaining 5 per cent comes from a mix of sources including wind, bioenergy and rooftop solar.

Explore the current mix of energy sources converted into electricity here on the Origin Energy website.

Of course most people would like to see a more environmentally friendly mix of energy sources transformed into electrical energy but at present fossil fuel sources are the mainstay of electricity in Australia. The mix of energy sources to convert into electrical energy is changing. 




Electrical energy created from water stored in huge dams. The energy created by the water released from these dams is transformed into electricity by hydro-electric turbines and generators. The most famous source of hydroelectric power is in the Snowy Mountains, NSW. It is less expensive than mining fossil fuels and does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.




By generating electricity through the sun we prevent the release into the atmosphere of around 500 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year!





Moving air which is created when the sun heats the air and cooler air moves in to replace it. This causes wind. Through the ages people have learned to harness the wind's energy. Like the sun, it can also be used to create electricity. Wind power generates less than 1% of the electricity in Australia, but more wind farms are being built every year.




Energy which comes from landfill – or rubbish dumps. It includes energy from both animal and plant matter. Landfill gas is created when the waste you throw away starts rotting (or decomposing) in the ground. This gas would normally just seep through the ground and into the atmosphere, contributing to environmental problems, like the greenhouse effect. However, it can be captured and processed to create electricity. It is collected, dried (to get rid of any water), and then filtered (to get rid of any waste particles). It is then fed through pipes to a gas generator that burns the gas to create electricity.



Energy from the heat of the earth. It has been used for thousands of years in some countries for hot water, cooking and heating. It can also generate electricity using steam produced from heat found beneath the surface of the earth. It is not common in Australia yet though experimental and pilot geothermal power generation is being explored in the outback regions of South Australia, but is used in some parts of New Zealand and through Europe.



You might have an opinion on how electricity should be generated in Australia. The arguments are often complex as to where the energy source for electricity generation should come from. Generally one thing is clear.

Electricity is now an integral part of our lifestyle. Take it away and most of the things we are used to would change dramatically. Those changes would not be perceived as positive by most people. Scientists from many fields of study including chemistry, geology, physics and biology are working to support the technology behind electricity generation using both renewable and non-renewable resources.

Driving arguments for more renewable energy include:

  • The need to conserve energy resources for the future
  • The threat of enhanced greenhouse gas induced climate change.

The contrary arguments for using non-renewable resources include:

  • Well developed technology already exists to use those resources
  • Inability of alternatives to provide base load power for domestic and industrial use
  • The cost is relatively low to generate electricity with non-renewable resources.


Activity: Making recommendations to government

  • Draw up a list where you identify reasons why non-renewable resources must be used as part of the energy mix to generate electricity.
  • Then draw up another list with reasons why renewable resources must be used to generate electricity in Australia.
  • Think about taking only one side of the argument at a time so you can imagine the perspectives from only one point of view at any time.
  • Look carefully at the two lists then imagine you are an adviser to government and formulate a recommendation for Australia’s electrical energy generation future.


Electrical cord