What is an “Energy Source”? How About “Energy Carriers”?


Whenever we think of energy, we usually envision batteries or wires carrying electricity. Or putting gas into a gas tank. Or swapping out a propane tank on our RV or barbecue. Or… STOP!

All these things I just mentioned now: sorry folks, they are not energy.

Forget everything you learned. Forget all that stuff you saw on TV.


Lately Arnie Schwarzenegger and Big George are talking about hydrogen power and solar power. Then we hear stuff about wind towers, hydro-electric power and the list goes on ad nauseum.

With all these catch phrases and political jabbering, it’s no wonder that many people I speak with are seriously confused about what energy is and how it’s delivered. Either that, or when I talk with them, they think I’m nuts! Unfortunately, this is a case of whether you like believing in things in a simple way – or in the convoluted hip-hype way the media would have you see things.

Dump it!

If you want to be the hep-cat on energy, go simple. Learn these three things and that’s all you’ll need for a foundation.

– “energy”
– “energy carriers”
– “energy sources”

Everything else beyond these three concepts will be fluff.


Just remember this: In simple, non-scientific terms, energy is the force that makes stuff work.

I know it sounds simplistic, and I’m not trying to be facetious with you or demeaning about your intelligence. If you really want to learn more about energy, go read a science book. You’ll get all jumbled up about what energy is, and then you can come back here and go simple.

Energy is not:

Heat: because heat is a form of energy. A medium through which energy expresses itself.
Motion: because motion is mechanical energy, yet another form of energy being expressed.

Again, forget everything you learned. Go simple: Energy is the force that makes stuff work. Leave it at that.


“Renewable energy” falls under the ENERGY definition with a little bit of fluff added to it to put it into the context of the world in which we live. Defining “renewable energy” goes something like this:

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“Renewable energy is the force that makes stuff work, derived from a source that will indefinitely put out such energy.”


Up until now we’ve been talking hypothetically. How about some action and thrills? Let’s lock-and-load for energy delivery. The two big bruisers are:

– Energy Carriers AND
– Energy Sources


Energy carriers are things that literally carry energy, in our society usually carrying energy in a chemical form. Examples of energy carriers are:

Batteries: They store electricity in chemical form.
My comment: use rechargeable batteries charged by the sun.
Gasoline: Gas stores energy in a manufactured chemical form. This is burned and produces heat, which can be converted into electricity and/or locomotion.
My comment: ride a bike, or at least get a diesel car and switch to home-brew biodiesel.
Firewood: This is organic matter that produces heat, which can also be converted into electricity and/or locomotion.
My comment: use it sparingly or not at all. Not many trees around now.
“Deep heat” massage stones used in those fashionably expensive spa therapy joints – these stones carry energy in the form of heat and they deliver a big fat bill when used in a Beverly Hills spa therapy joint.
My comment: Get some rocks from the back yard and throw ’em on the BBQ next time you grill some dogs and burgers with the fam.
Electric blanket used to keep your tootsies warm in bed during the winter.
My comment: get a warm kitty-cat and sleep with her instead. Besides, that purring is awesome!

All of the above our energy carriers, including the kitty.

Energy carriers do exactly what they say. They only “carry” or “store” energy. In and of themselves, they are not energy sources. They only carry energy. There is nothing wrong with energy carriers. They just run out of energy when you use them up – except for Kitty. Keep her well fed! Butt heads with her!

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Energy sources are actual sources of energy. They are where the energy comes from.

Unlimited energy sources are the true version of “renewable energy” in the sense that they don’t ever stop. As far as most scientific exploration knows, the only true energy sources that we can use are provided to us from the following three places:

– The Earth
– The Sun
– The moon

No, this is not some kind of astrophysical reinterpretation of cosmic energy derived from crunchy crustacean cakes with pulp-like particles. Um… No.

When I say “the earth”, “the Sun, and “the Moon”, this is what I mean:

Our beloved Earth is an energy source in the sense that she contains a virtually unlimited amount of energy in the form of heat. Earth heat is otherwise known as “geothermal energy”. The folks who seem to be most up to date on geothermal energy as a way of life are the inhabitants of Iceland. The most common carrier of geothermal energy and Iceland appears in the form of steam. Steam is “tapped” in a manner similar to oil wells, with the escaping steam gases being used to drive turbines or other machinery to produce electrical power. Anyway, remember: steam is a carrier, not an energy source.

The Earth can also deliver energy in the form of movement through gravity. For example, hydroelectric power is energy harnessed from moving water that flows because of the Earth’s gravity. Thank the Earth for this power!

Our brilliant Sun is an energy source in the sense that he continuously transmits energy as heat and light. We receive the sun’s energy mostly as light, the equivalent of about 1000 watts of power per square yard of direct sunlight. Right now we can convert this form of energy into other useful forms, for example by using solar panels to produce electricity. Some folks in Spain have come up with a dramatically innovative way of capturing solar energy by using a solar tower.

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The Sun also cooperates with the Earth in the hydroelectric power cycle. How? The water on the ground, in oceans, from all over is evaporated by the Sun. This is Sun power! After a while, this airborne water rains down onto the Earth and forms into rivers. These rivers flow due to gravity from the Earth – a form of Earth power! This example of Sun-Earth power produces flowing water which results in hydroelectric power. Amazing.

The sleepy Moon is a surprisingly unknown energy source for most people. People say, “The moon! Whaddya mean? The moon has no power!” Wrong, Baby! The moon is a continuous renewable source of mechanical energy that is directly useful to us through ocean tides – also known as tidal power. Mechanical energy derived from the moon is a relatively untapped idea because many people don’t live on or near water. Those folks that do live near water are usually out of touch with it, too. Too bad. Anyway, we are catching up on this front, and folks are coming up with some cool ideas for capturing moon power delivered through the tides.


Ok, so you learned about:

– “energy”
– “energy carriers”
– “energy sources”

These are the basics.

All the rest are details that have to do with how to capture energy, deliver energy, store energy, and convert energy. These details can all be linked back to the list of three above.

Master the list above, and the next time some politician starts babbling about hydrogen as an “energy source”, you can jump up and scream, “Hah! That’s actually an energy carrier!”

Have fun! Take care of Kitty.

– John