Energy Issues

AS Georgraphy- Energy Issues


Different types of energy

Energy comes in many different types and although it can't be created or destroyed, it can be converted from one type to another

Energy can be classified as either either primary or secondary energy

Primary energy is released from a direct source e.g. heat energy is released from burning coal

Secondary energy forms when primary energy is converted into a different form e.g. when heat from burning coal is used to generate electricity

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Renewable and Non-renewable

Renewable resources

  • if it can be replenished at a similar rate to which it's used
  • also known as flow resources
  • tidal energy, wind energy and solar power are all renewable resources because you can't use them up

Non-renewable resources

  • can run out and can't be replaced in the forseeable future
  • also known as stock resources
  • fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and nuclear energy
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Renewable management

whether a resource is renewable depends on how fast the resource is being used compared to how fast it's replenished

  • some resources are clearly renewable and will always be available eg. solar
  • other resources have to be carefully managed for example:
    • wood- if too much wood is used in a short space of time the natural cycle of replenishment is disrupted and the resource is used up
    • geothermal reservoirs- tectonic heat is used to turn water into steam at geothermal power stations but if the power station is too large for the site then continually pumping water into the ground will end up cooling the ground
  • some renewable resources can be replaced but aren't considered renewable because of the timescale involved e.g. fossil fuels
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Primary energy mix

-describes the sources of energy a country uses

  • countries need energy for industry and transport as well as for use in homes
  • many countries aren't able to supply all of their energy needs from one source, or they might not want to for energy security reasons so they use a variety of sources
  • the amount of each resource used is called the energy mix and it's usually shown as percentages
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Global energy production

some countries produce lots of energy because they have large energy reserves and the money to exploit them. For example:

  • Iran, Saudi Arabia- large oil reserves
  • China, Australia- large coal reserves
  • UK, Russia, Canada- Large oil and gas reserves
  • USA, Indonesia- large coal, oil and gas reserves

some countries produce little energy because they have few resources or are unable to exploit their resources due to lack of money or political instability

  • Sudan- politically instable and lack of money
  • Ireland- few recoverable resources
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Global energy consumption

There is a strong relationship between GDP and energy consumption

  • wealthy countries tend to consume lots of energy per person because they are wealthy and can afford to. Most people in these countries would have access to electricity and heating, and use energy-intensive devices like cars e.g. Austrilia, Sweden, USA
  • Poorer countries consume less energy per person as they are less able to afford it. Less energy is available and lifestyles are less dependent on high energy consumption than in wealthier countries e.g. Burkina Faso, Pakistan
  • some countries don't consume much energy per person, but consume a lot overall because they have large populations e.g. Brazil
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Energy Trade

Some countries don't produce much energy but still consume a lot 

This is possible because energy is traded between countries

  • countries that are able to produce a lot of energy export it to those that can't
  • Canada, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Denmark and Venezuela all export large amounts of energy
  • Ireland, Italy, Spain and Japan all import large amounts of energy
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Geopolitics of energy

Energy security is an important issue for all governments for several reasons:

  • all countries are dependent on energy supplies e.g. for transport
  • global energy use is increasing and fossil fuel reserves are decreasing, many people believe we're coming to an 'energy crisis' so governments are more concerned than ever about how to secure future supplies
  • The largest oil and gas reserves are in areas that are either politically or economically unstable e.g. Russia
  • agreements are often reached between exporting and importing regions for example, the EU will become increasingly dependent on imports as North Sea oil runs out, so it opened talks with Russia in 2000 to try to guarantee access to Russian supplies
  • At times agreements can't be reached and concerns over energy security can lead to conflict or the threat of conflict
  • as energy consumption increases, so does the impact of energy use on the environment, international agreements e.g. Kyoto Protocol are drawn up to address these problems
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Patterns of production

Changes in production

  • Energy production has increased in countries where new reserves have been discovered e.g. Nigeria and Algeria
  • been increases in places that have become politically stable e.g. Angola
  • has decreased in other countries as resources are used up e.g. North Sea Oil production has declined since 1999 reducing production in the UK, Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands
  • Production often decreases in areas that become more unstable e.g. Sudan oil production decreased due to civil war between 1983 and 2005
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Pattens of consumption and trade

Changes in Consumption

  • China has the largest population and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, As standards of living improve and industrial output increase China consumes more energy
  • Other newly industrialised countries e.g. India, Malaysia and Mexico are also using more energy as they develop

Changes in trade- as production and consumption of energy so does trade

  • Exports from ex-soviet central Asian countries like Kazakhstan are increasing. These countries are attractive as suppliers to the EU, USA and China because the region is more stable than the Middle East and isn't controlled by Russia, reducing dependance
  • Brazil and Denmark were once heavily dependent on imports but are now both energy self-sufficient, due to development of renewable energy and discoveries of domestic oil reserves
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Fossil fuels damage the environment

Acid Rain- Burning fossil fuels releases various gases, some of these dissolve in water vapour in the atmosphere, which then falls as acid rain causing:

  • Kill fish and other aquatic life causing reduced biodiversity
  • Kill trees and other plant life, also reducing biodiversity
  • reduce the nutrient content of soil so that some species of plant can't grow
  • corrode rocks e.g. limestone

Global Warming- burning fossil fuels releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the air enhancing the planet's natural greenhouse effect, increasing world temperatures and causing climate change

  • rising sea levels and increased flooding
  • more frequent and severe extreme weather events e.g. hurricanes, drought
  • habitat loss (leads to loss of biodiversity and the extinction of species)
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Fossil fuels damage the environment

Problems associated with Mining- coal mining involves disturbing or removing large areas of land, which can lead to:

  • wildlife being displaced
  • habitat loss
  • reduced air quality as dust and other particulates are released
  • contamination of surface water with acidic or toxic substances

Oil Spills- happen when pipes, oil wells or tankers transporting oil leak, dumping oil onto land or into seas or oceans. The effects of oil spills last for a long time and lead to the death of wildlife, many reasons:

  • oil reduces the ability of animals to move freely, which makes it more difficult for them to swim, fly or forage
  • hypothermia- when feathers and fur become coated in oil it reduces the animal's ability to control its body temperature
  • consumption of oil
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Nuclear power

Nuclear power stations heat energy released from uranium or plutonium and is used to generate electricity


  • low carbon dioxide emissions
  • less toxic waste is released
  • large amounts of energy are generated from small amounts of fuel
  • electricity produced by nuclear power is cheap
  • e.g. In France 78% of electricity is produced from nuclear power and France has the cleanest air of any industrialised country and the cheapest electricity
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Disadvantages of Nuclear Power

  • nuclear waste is highly radioactive and has to be stored carefully for thousands of years which is expensive
  • accidents causing radioactive leak into the environment can have devastating consequences e.g. human, animal and plant deaths, illnesses, destruction of the local environment and contamination of large areas of land, the damage lasts for a long time
  • there's only limited amounts of uranium and plutonium
  • decommissioning power stations at the end of their life is very expensive
  • example: the 1986 explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant 
    • directly caused 56 deaths and radiation released 
    • caused thousands of deaths and illness 
    • radioactive material was detected as far away as ireland
    • 4km2 area of forest died
    • food supplies were affected in Scandinavia for several years
    • Chernobyl area is still heavily contaminated
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Sustainable Energy

for energy production to be sustainable:

  • it mustn't deplete resources
  • mustn't cause long term damage

energy production using non-renewable resources isn't sustainable as it's environmentally damaging and the resource will run out

energy produced from renewable resources is sustainable as it doesn't usually cause long term environmental damage and the resource won't run out

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Wind Energy

responsible for 1% of the world's electricity production

carbon dioxide is released during the production and installation of wind turbines but once that's done no greenhouse gases are released and no fuel is needed

  • built in open and exposed areas where there's a high chance of strong, regular winds
  • the energy of the wind turns the blades of the turbine, converting wind energy to mechanical energy which is converted to electrical energy
  • large-scale wind power involves wind farms, the electricity is fed into a national grid that transports electricity to consumers
  • wind farms can be offshore or onland
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Wind energy


  • Denmark has been investing in wind power since the 1970s establishing offshore and onshore wind turbines
  • families are offered tax exemptions for generating their own electricity
  • By 2004 over 150,000 households has joined the scheme
  • Denmark now produces 19.7% of its electricity from wind power which is the highest proportion in the world


  • wind energy is unpredictable- amount of electricity varies with strength
  • large numbers of turbines are needed to produce significant amounts of electricity which takes up a lot of space
  • the most appropriate places for turbines are often protected areas of natural beauty
  • wind farms produce a constant humming noise
  • turbines can kill or injure birds and bats 
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  • material that is or was recently living
  • it includes wood, plants and animal waste- these materials can be burnt to release energy
  • biomass can also be processed to produce biofuels, which are then burnt to release energy
  • common way of producing biofuel is to ferment sugar cane to produce alcohol, which can then be burnt. Methane and biogas are also types of biofuel produced using fermentation
  • using biomass as an energy source can involve a lot or very little technology meaning it is suitable energy source for a wide range of countries
  • biomass energy is released by burning producing carbon dioxide but it doesn't contribute to global warming as the amount of carbon released equals the amount of carbon taken in
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  • Brazil has been running and ethanol fuel programme since the 1970s
  • the ethanol is made by fermenting sugar cane and any leftover cane is burnt for heating and power
  • ethanol supplies 18% of transport fuel or a petrol ethanol mix
  • this has decreased Brazil's dependence on imported oil


  • Large areas of land are needed to produce sufficient amounts of biofuels- reduces the area of land to grow food crops which could lead to food shortages
  • biomass is only a renewable energy resource if it's carefully managed
  • fossil fuels are often used to process and transport biomass 
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Solar Power

  • comes from the sun and can be used in lots of different ways
  • solar water heaters use solar energy to heat water, which is then pumped to a storage tank ready for use
  • solar cookers work by concentrating sunlight, converting it to heat energy and then trapping it for use in cooking
  • photovoltaic cells convert light energy into electrical energy which is used in the home or exported to a grid
  • materials that absorb the sun's heat during the day and release it at night can be used to keep houses warm


  • In the Chinese city Rizhao, 99% of buildings have solar water heaters, over 6000 households use solar cookers and most traffic and street lights are powered by PV cells

disadvantages: carbon dioxide is produced in equipment production, PV cells are expensive, large areas of solar panels and sunny climates are needed

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Tidal Energy

  • comes from the movement of tides, its less variable than wind and solar as tides are regular, tidal energy can be harnessed using tidal barrages or tidal stream systems
  • tidal barrages (dams) are built across estuaries, as the tide flows water passes through gates in the barrage, turning turbines making electricity 
  • tidal streams are fast-flowing currents caused by the tide, they turn turbines placed in their pathway to generate electricity


  • Rance estuary tidal barrage in Northern France began operating in 1967
  • It's the largest tidal power station in the world, producing enough electricity for over 19,000 homes


  • the equipment is expensive and making it releases carbon dioxide
  • barrages disrupt ecosystems and turbines kill aquatic animals
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Wave energy

  • wave energy is harnessed by using a wave generator- a chamber with a hole at the top that contains a turbine
  • when a wave flows into the bottom of the chamber, the increased mass of water forces the air into the chamber upwards and through the hole, which turns the turbine
  • the turbine is connected to a generator that produces electricity


  • in 2000 LIMPET in Scotland became the world's first device that used wave energy on a commercial scale. It generates electricity for the national grid


  • wave energy is unreliable as there aren't always waves
  • the generators are expensive and making them releases carbon dioxide
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Hydroelectric power

Hydroelectric power supplies 20% of the world's electricity,is responsible for over 60% of electricity from renewable sources. Once plants are built no greenhouse gas is released

  • at HEP plants dams are built to trap large volumes of water. Tunnels containing turbines are built into dams
  • the pressure of the water above drives water through the tunnels, turning the turbines- generators then convert this energy into electricity

Example: Nurek Dam in Tajikistan is the tallest dam in the world and has 9 hydroelectric turbines in it, in 1994 it supplied 98% of the country's electricity


  • creating reservoirs can mean destruction of communities and habitats
  • if dam fails causes major flooding
  • ecosystems are disrupted, 
  • plants are expensive and making them releases carbon dioxide
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Energy conservation

buildings can be made more sustainable:

  • reducing energy needed for heating by installing double glazing, draught excluders, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation
  • installing energy efficient boilers
  • building in features that help absorb and retain the sun's energy
  • using energy saving appliances

transport can be made more sustainable:

  • changing to vehicles that don't need any fuel e.g. bicycles
  • establishing park and ride systems
  • introducing congestion charges e.g. London
  • vehicles can be made more sustainable with technologies:
    • hydrogen fuel cell buses run on hydrogen
    • electric buses
    • using hybrid fuel vehicles
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Case Study- Norway

Energy consumption is high- 6.2 tonnes of oil evaluated per person, and electricity consumption is the highest in the world. It has large reserves of oil and gas and uses hydroelectric power. 39% of energy comes from fossil fuels and 61% from renewables

Oil and gas exporter:

  • 5th largest exporter of oil and the 3rd largest exporter of gas
  • fossil fuels are important source of income- oil= 25% of GDP
  • Norwegian fuel prices are among the highest in Europe due to high taxation- fits in with the policy of discouraging the use of oil
  • almost all of Norway's gas supplies are exported as it's not used much
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Case Study- Norway

Hydropower providing electricity:

  • with natural lakes at high altitudes and lots of rain Norway is able to generate 99% of its electricity and 50% of its total energy from HEP
  • This makes it the 6th largest producer of hydropower in the world and the largest in Europe
  • as many lakes are natural the plants have less impact on the environment than artificially created reservoirs

Investing in renewable energy sources:

  • aims to reduce its dependency on hydroelectric power by using a wider range of renewable resources
  • almost all HEP sites have been exploited
  • 2.5 billion euros were invested in developing renewable energy and energy efficiency in 2006
  • research into solar power aims to increase the percentage of the Sun's energy than can be converted into electricity from 17% to 50%
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Case Study- Norway

  • the state also provides funding for companies to research and develop biofuels to use for transport instead of oil e.g. producing biodiesel from salmon waste
  • as a wealthy nation Norway is able to invest in research to develop a sustainable energy supply

Norway is energy-rich so doesn't have to worry about energy security in the short term

  • it can concentrate on developing a long-term sustainable energy supply
  • some aspects are already sustainable e.g. hydropower
  • policies such as investing in energy efficiency, and putting high taxes on oil, promote sustainability
  • the political stability and wealth of the country allow it to pursue energy sustainability 
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5/5!! Thanks alot =D this is really helpful! Is it for AQA??

Mary x


Thanks, it's really helpful :)



This is a really useful resource, thanks!

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