• Alternative energy is energy that does not come from fossil fuels, and thus produces little to no greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). This means that energy produced from alternative sources does not contribute to the greenhouse effect that causes climate change. You can explore CO2 emissions using the MapMaker Interactive here.

    These energy sources are referred to as “alternative” because they represent the alternative to coal, oil, and natural gas, which have been the most common sources of energy since the Industrial Revolution. These fossil fuels emit high levels of CO2 when burned to produce energy and electricity. Alternative energy, however, should not be confused with renewable energy, although many renewable energy sources can also be considered alternative. Solar power, for example, is both renewable and alternative because it will always be abundant and it emits no greenhouse gases. Nuclear power, however, is alternative but not renewable, since it uses uranium, a finite resource. Learn more about renewable energy using the MapMaker Interactive here.

    This map shows the average percentage of a country’s total energy use that came from alternative sources between the years 2006-2010. Alternative energy here includes hydroelectric energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, and biomass energy. The data come from the World Bank. It is important to note that while the World Bank considers nuclear energy an alternative energy source, not all energy policy experts agree on how to categorize nuclear energy.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abundant Adjective

    in large amounts.

    biomass energy Noun

    renewable energy derived from living or recently living organisms, mostly plants.

    carbon dioxide Noun

    greenhouse gas produced by animals during respiration and used by plants during photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is also the byproduct of burning fossil fuels.

    climate change Noun

    gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate change
    coal Noun

    dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the earth.

    emit Verb

    to give off or send out.

    finite Adjective

    limited and not renewable.

    fossil fuel Noun

    coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

    G-20 Noun

    group of bankers and finance ministers representing the world's top 20 economies (19 nations and the European Union). Also called the Group of 20.

    geothermal energy Noun

    heat energy generated within the Earth.

    greenhouse effect Noun

    phenomenon where gases allow sunlight to enter Earth's atmosphere but make it difficult for heat to escape.

    Encyclopedic Entry: greenhouse effect
    greenhouse gas Noun

    gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.

    hydroelectric energy Noun

    energy generated by moving water converted to electricity. Also known as hydroelectricity.

    Encyclopedic Entry: hydroelectric energy
    Industrial Revolution Noun

    change in economic and social activities, beginning in the 18th century, brought by the replacement of hand tools with machinery and mass production.

    Itaipu Dam Noun

    most powerful hydroelectric dam in the world, spanning the Parana River between Paraguay and Brazil.

    natural gas Noun

    type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.

    Encyclopedic Entry: natural gas
    nuclear energy Noun

    energy released by reactions among the nuclei of atoms.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nuclear energy
    oil Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

    renewable energy Noun

    energy obtained from sources that are virtually inexhaustible and replenish naturally over small time scales relative to the human life span.

    resource base Noun

    the available supply of goods, materials, or services in a specific place at a specific time.

    solar power Noun

    rate of producing, transferring, or using solar energy.

    uranium Noun

    chemical element with the symbol U. Fuel used to produce nuclear energy.

    wind energy Noun

    energy produced by the movement of air, and converted into electricity.

Tell us what you think