Energy Conversion

There are a variety of types of energy as described below and energy conversions are happening all the time, all around and within us.  It is important to understand what happens when we convert one type of energy to another.  We currently can do some conversions with little energy loss (electricity to heat), while other conversions result in little of the original energy value remaining (heat to electricity).  The energy that is lost in a conversion is not totally lost but is rather in a different form than desired – usually lost as heat or chemical change.  An example is the heat that is generated from friction between mechanical parts in motion.

Greenhouse Gases & Energy

People are generally aware that burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, a significant greenhouse gas**.  There are other greenhouse gases, for example nitrogen oxides, which are produced when fuels are burned.  The quantity and type of greenhouse gases produced depends on the type of fuel and manner of combustion used.  One of the most commonly used fossil fuels, natural gas, contains methane a potent greenhouse gas being 21 to 23 times more active than carbon dioxide.  Burning natural gas is far better, with regard to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, than releasing it directly to the air. 

**Water vapor is abundant, and is a by-product of combustion, and can be a very potent greenhouse gas, but because its interaction with sunlight is very complex (clouds, snow, ice, rain, water) it is not usually accounted for as a greenhouse gas.

Sources of Local Energy

Some energy is produced in Spokane but significant amounts are imported.  We attempt here to paint as clear a picture as we can of the sources of energy currently used in Spokane.

Local Use of Energy

Energy by Type

Most of the energy on earth used by man has resulted from the radiant energy of the sun (fossil fuels, most plant and animal matter, most hydro-electricity, and some portion of wind energy).  This solar energy results from nuclear reactions.  Nuclear energy is the result of converting some matter into pure energy following Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 (energy gained equals the mass lost times the speed of light squared).  Nuclear reactions generate heat in the Earth and man has learned to harvest some of this energy.  Some living things thrive on this source of energy as well (e.g. life at ocean thermal vents).  Man has harnessed nuclear fission for energy production and is working at harnessing nuclear fusion.  Finally, there is tidal energy and some portion of wind energy which results from the spin of the earth and the gravitational interaction with the sun and moon.

US DOE Energy Sources page 


Mechanical energy is the energy in moving parts, Hydraulic the energy in moving fluids, and Kinetic energy that in moving objects.


Heat energy is derived from the vibration of atoms.  Generally the more they vibrate the higher the temperature and the less stable is the chemical they are a part of.  Heat energy can travel, even through the vacuum of space, via infrared radiation.  Heat energy also is transferred via conduction and convection.

Electrical & magnetic

Electrical & magnetic energy are two forms of energy that are very interconnected.  When a conductor passes through a magnetic field electrons flow, and when electrons flow through a wire a magnetic field is produced.  These two forms of energy are commonly used to convert mechanical energy into electricity (generators) and vice-versa to make mechanical energy from electricity (motors).

Electro-magnetic radiation

Electro-magnetic radiation refers to the full spectrum of radiation from radio-waves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, microwave, x ray, et-al.


Energy can be stored in chemical bonds between atoms.  These bonds can absorb, and release energy as they change.  Some examples of chemical energy are gasoline, TNT, plastic explosives, wood, and sugar.


Nuclear energy results from the conversion of matter to energy.  The energy that results is in the form of heat, and electro-magnetic radiation.


Solar energy refers here to the energy which having come from the sun, warms the air, water, and ground, and powers the plant kingdom’s photosynthesis.  Man is learning to more efficiently use this radiation for direct heating of living spaces and for production of electricity.


Harnessing the rise and fall of water in the ocean to generate electricity is another renewable energy alternative.


Wind power is becoming an increasingly important method of electricity production.  It’s downside is that it is available only when the wind blows which it is not wont to do when we might most want it to.