Where does our energy come from?

At times it is worth reminding ourselves of some basic facts. In such a complex world, it can be easy to forget or dismiss them.

Where do humans get the energy to fuel our bodies and our economies? Where does our energy come from?

The French, who generate 70% of their electricity from nuclear energy, might give a different answer, but the truth for most of us is simple — the sun.

Here is how Kate Raworth describes it…

Quote from Kate Raworth reminding us that our energy comes from the sun

The sun is the primary source that powers our wealth and wellbeing — a sobering realisation that. 

And yet, apart from warming us up on an autumnal morning, direct sunlight is not that helpful to us. The energy is, but we have to capture it somehow, and the easiest way by far is via ancient and modern plants. Only recently has technology allowed us to efficiently convert sunlight directly via solar panels or indirectly via the wind. Mostly we tap the ancient sources of suns power by burning coal, gas and oil.

Closer to home, It is worth remembering that our bodies can only use the suns energy via plants. Our food is the sun’s energy converted via photosynthesis into plant biomass and the animals that eat those plants.

In other words, we are far closer to nature than we realise. 

No amount of clever technology can alter this fact.

We might invent the impossible burger from algae, grow vegetables with aquaponics, and rear cattle in feedlots, but the basis for all of this remains the sun.

What sustainably FED suggests

Telling you that human energy comes from the sun is trite. Too obvious to repeat.

Perhaps more significant is that this energy conversion to biomass and biomass to fuel is difficult. It requires complex chemistry and robust homeostatic systems that we call organisms.

Beating entropy this way is the miracle of life.

A miracle this may be, but natural processes capture energy far too slowly to keep pace with human use for food or economy. 

This disconnect from nature’s short and ancient processes is worth our attention.

Hero image modified from a photo by M. R. on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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