Have you heard of renewable energy sources before? What about nonrenewable energy sources? Even if neither term rings a bell, it’s very likely that you’ve used one before. This week, we’ll be taking a look at what renewable and nonrenewable energy sources are, how the two are different, and why these matter. This is incredibly important to understand in the context of sustainability!
What is a renewable energy source?
To understand what a renewable energy source is, one must first know what a renewable resource is. Simply put, a renewable resource is one that never runs out because its supply can be naturally replenished. Examples of such resources include water, air, soil, and plants. Therefore, a renewable energy source is an energy source with an unlimited supply. Some commonly known ones are solar power, wind power, hydropower, geothermal power, which comes from the heat of the earth, and biomass, which comes from organic material that has absorbed solar energy.
Renewable energy sources are often referred to as clean energy sources because they do not emit greenhouse gases (GHGs), as we will later learn nonrenewable energy sources do. Renewable energy sources are also extremely sustainable, as they have an unlimited supply. However, if they are consumed faster than they are naturally replenished, renewable resources can turn into nonrenewable resources, which is important to keep in mind.
What is a nonrenewable energy source?
Now that we know what a renewable resource is, it should be pretty easy to figure out what a nonrenewable resource is. Nonrenewable resources are the polar opposite of renewable resources; they cannot be naturally replenished, and thus, their supplies are limited and once fully depleted, are gone forever. This then makes the use of them extremely unsustainable. Nonrenewable energy sources are now self-explanatory; they are energy sources that have a finite supply and cannot be naturally replenished. According to National Geographic, “there are 4 types of nonrenewable [energy] resources: oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy,” the former 3 of which are jointly known as fossil fuels. Their name comes from the fact that they are found in the fossils of the remains of plants and animals from several million years ago.
Why should one type of energy be used more than the other?
If you haven’t figured it out already, the use of renewable energy sources is much more beneficial to the environment and the human species than the use of nonrenewable resources for a variety of reasons. The first has been mentioned already. Renewable energy sources are clean, whereas nonrenewable resources are not. This is really important, especially nowadays, because the more GHGs we eimt, the more we are contributing to climate change, which I’m sure you all know by now is anything but ideal.
Similar to GHG emissions, nonrenewable energy also creates way more air and water pollution than renewable energy does, because, again, the latter is clean. Some renewable energy sources like solar energy and wind energy do not require any water in their production, and thus, cannot pollute water sources. On the other hand, it is quite common for coal and natural gas drilling to pollute nearby drinking water with debris. If the water does not get treated, consumption can pose many serious threats to human and animal health.
Also mentioned earlier is that the use of renewable energy is considered sustainable, unlike the use of nonrenewable energy, which is considered unsustainable. Something is sustainable when it can be done at a normal rate and fulfill today’s needs without jeopardizing the ability of future societies’ to fulfill their needs. Since renewable energy has an unlimited supply, it meets the criteria to be sustainable, and vice versa for nonrenewable energy.
Renewable energy can also be harvested almost anywhere, since it is taken from natural resources that are quite equally distributed and easy to access around the world like the Sun, water, and air. This is less true for nonrenewable energy, as resources like coal are not found everywhere and can be hard to extract in some areas. Therefore, the use of renewable energy can reduce the amount of energy importing countries have to do, which can reduce GHG emissions that occur from transportation.
The point is that we should definitely reduce our nonrenewable energy usage, if not completely eliminate it. However, according to Lumen Learning, “In the US, only 10% of energy comes from renewable sources (mostly hydroelectric energy). Nonrenewable sources [make] up 85% of worldwide energy usage—from sources that eventually will be depleted, such as oil, natural gases and coal.” With the increasing demand of energy from the several nations that are still developing, that 85% will only increase if nothing is done, simply because nonrenewable energy is so much cheaper and easier to get out. This is because we’ve been using nonrenewable energy sources for so long, so naturally, prices have dropped, and ease has increased.
It doesn’t have to be like this, though. If we all do our part, we can effectively replace nonrenewable energy with renewable energy, and get one step closer to 100% planetary health. Hopefully you learned something new today. Share this with a friend or family member to spread awareness, and try to see if you can fully or partially switch to renewable energy!