Renewable Energy vs. Nonrenewable Energy | Just the Facts

Just the Facts: Renewable Energy vs. Nonrenewable Energy

by | Educational, Energy Topics, Renewable Energy

The terms alternative energy, clean energy, green energy, and sustainable energy are not uncommon to hear these days. You may even note a sense of urgency around them. But do you know why? These are all common phrases used in reference to renewable energy resources.   

So why has renewable energy become increasingly relevant?   

Read on to get the answer to that question and more. We’ll cover what renewable sources of energy are available today, the pros and cons of renewable power generation, and how practicing sustainability affects you financially. 

What Makes Energy Renewable?  

Energy Renewable - Lightbulbs Illustration

Renewable energy is the energy we derive from many of Earth’s naturally occurring resources, including wind, water, and sun. We call these resources renewable or sustainable (as in sustainable energy) since they are inexhaustible.  

What Is the Difference Between Nonrenewable and Renewable Energy Resources? 

Currently, the primary sources of energy in the United States are fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are nonrenewable resources created over the course of millions of years, far beneath the Earth’s surface. When these finite resources are gone, they’re gone.   

The rate at which we’re using fossil fuels is too fast. If we don’t make a drastic and immediate change in how we’re using them, they could be potentially depleted within our children’s lifetime. On the other hand, renewable energy comes from virtually inexhaustible sources. Using these natural resources allows us to conserve and extend the lifespan of our nonrenewables.   

Even worse than depletion might be that fossil fuels have an extremely negative impact on the environment. The top cause of carbon emissions in the U.S. comes from electricity generation produced by burning fossil fuels in nonrenewable power plants.   

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions lead to global warming and other forms of climate change, which can lead to:  

  • Acid rain 
  • Smog 
  • Soot 
  • Toxic air emissions 
  • Congenital disabilities 
  • Cancer 
  • Other severe health-related conditions 
  • Changes in sea level 
  • Cold snaps 
  • Droughts 
  • Hurricanes 
  • Melting glaciers 
  • Wildfires 

Renewable energy has a much lower carbon footprint than coal and other fossil fuels. Switching to renewable energy sources can positively impact the environment by slowing climate change. This positive environmental impact is where the terms green energy and clean energy come from. 

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How Do You Conserve Nonrenewable Energy Resources? 

Nonrenewable Energy Resources Conserving - Lady fixing plumbingsource

Even though making the change to renewable resources is a critical move for our future, finding additional ways to conserve our nonrenewable resources is equally important. Did you know that Americans wasted two-thirds of the total energy used in 2018? Think of how much longer our fossil fuels would last if we could avoid such waste. 

6 Simple Steps Towards Energy Conservation: 

  1. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. 
  2. Unplug unused chargers, electronics, and appliances. 
  3. Change to energy-efficient light bulbs. 
  4. Repair plumbing issues like leaky faucets and running toilets. 
  5. Do all of your hot water tasks simultaneously. 
  6. Use cold water when possible. 

Why Is Energy Conservation Important? 

In the United States, fossil fuels produce 80% of all energy consumed. Our current dependence on fossil fuels is too high to risk a rapid depletion rate. We are working towards replacing fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas with renewable alternatives, but we need time.   

The more energy we can conserve, the longer we will have nonrenewable resources available to assist us with our energy needs. Just as importantly, energy conservation helps to slow global warming 

These Critical Achievements Can Be Accomplished Through Simple Acts of Energy Conservation:  

What Are Renewable Sources of Energy? 

In its early stages, the costs and limitations of alternative energy didn’t make it as practical for widespread commercial use as it is now. Fortunately, renewable energy source options are steadily growing and improving. Plus, as the demand for improved energy efficiency and clean sources of energy grows, it’s becoming easier and more beneficial for consumers to go green  

Let’s take a look at some of the sustainable energy resources that we’re using today to fulfill our energy needs:   

  1. Solar energy 
  2. Hydroelectric energy 
  3. Geothermal energy 
  4. Wind energy 
  5. Bioenergy 
  6. Nuclear power 
  7. Hydrogen energy 
  8. Tidal energy 
  9. Wave energy 

What Are Different Ways To Generate Renewable Power? 

We now know that we use the Earth’s naturally occurring resources like the sun, wind, and water to source our energy needs. But how does that work? Here, we’ll look at some of the ways we use alternative energy to generate renewable power. 

How Do We Use Solar Energy To Generate Power?  

Solar Energy Powering Top of Housesource

Solar energy technologies refer to any solar-based system that captures radiant energy from the sun and converts it into another form of energy, like electrical or thermal energy. Solar energy includes solar power for electricity generation, passive solar systems, and solar-thermal systems for space heating and heating water. 

 There are two main solar power system types. The first type is through photovoltaics (PV), which is the technology used in solar panels. Here, direct sunlight is converted by the PV system into electricity with solar cells. The other type is called a concentrated solar-thermal power (CSP) system, which converts sunlight to heat first using mirrors and receivers, then using that heat to produce or store electricity.   

Solar energy very well may be the best renewable energy source we have today. As of now, it is the most abundant and cleanest alternative energy resource available as well as one of the cheapest. The United States is home to some of the best solar resources available throughout the world. 

What Is Hydropower? How Does It Work? 

Hydropowerand Hydroelectric Energy at worksource

Dams are the most common association with hydroelectric power. As water flows through a dam’s turbines, it produces electricity or pumped-storage hydropower. Run-of-river hydropower is another form that uses a channel to funnel the water through instead of a dam.  

The most commonly-used renewable power source globally is hydropower, claiming over 54% of the world’s renewable power generation capacity in 2018. China is home to a facility named the Three Gorges, the biggest hydropower plant in the world. Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Russia also boast some of the world’s largest hydropower installations. 

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How Do Geothermal Heat Pumps Work?  

Geothermal Heat Pumps inside Home Illustrationsource

Geothermal heat is trapped heat that lies beneath the Earth’s crust since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago. Occasionally, heat will naturally escape in large quantities, resulting in volcanic eruptions or geysers. We capture this heat and then use it to produce geothermal energy by harnessing the steam generated by the heated water that’s pumping below the surface. The steam then rises to the top, where it operates a turbine.   

As with any heat pump, geothermal heat pumps can cool, heat, and provide a hot water supply for homes. There are many types of geothermal heat pump systems. There are horizontal, vertical, and pond or lake closed-loop systems, and the open-loop system, plus there are hybrid systems. They all use Earth’s consistent temperature as the exchange medium rather than the air temperature outside. 

How Is Electricity Generated With Wind Power? 

Wind Power Electricity - Windmills producing Energysource

Did you know that windmills and wind turbines are not the same things? Windmills were the first method used to harness the wind’s energy. They can be used for pumping water, crushing and shredding rocks, grinding grains, and for other agricultural purposes, as well as for basic electricity generation. Windmills are built to withstand severe weather. They are less expensive and are used on a smaller scale than wind turbines.  

When it comes to mass electricity generation, you have to turn to wind turbines. They are more advanced but less versatile than windmills since a wind turbine’s sole function is to produce electricity. Wind farms, which are clusters of wind turbines arranged across large plots of open land, are used for bulk electricity generation. In contrast, small-scale single businesses and residential homes can use single wind turbines.   

Wind turbines are massive mechanical devices used to generate electricity by harnessing the wind’s kinetic energy. Most wind turbines are built with three propeller blades that rotate when the wind flows. The blades’ rotation turns a rotor, which connects to a part called the main shaft. When the blades spin, an electrical generator creates electricity.  

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that today’s offshore wind market only produces 0.3% of our global power generation. Still, it has the potential ability to generate more than 18 times the amount of electricity the global market demands today. Europe, China, Denmark, Germany, and the U.K. are the current leaders in the offshore wind market.   

Wind energy is one of our best sources of clean energy since it doesn’t produce any harmful emissions. Wind energy is also one of the fastest-growing energy sources globally. On top of that, the cheapest sources of electricity generation for over half of the world’s population are solar photovoltaics and onshore wind energy.   

Thanks to larger wind turbines, onshore wind energy now ranks number one as the cheapest source of new bulk electricity generation throughout all of North America. 

What Are the Different Types of Bioenergy? 

Bioenergy Types Renewable Energy Source - pellets imagesource

Bioenergy is a renewable energy source derived from organic matter that comes from byproducts of recently living plants and organisms (aka biomass). One example of this is wood. We can generate energy by burning biomass or by harnessing the methane gas produced when organic material in ponds or landfills naturally decomposes.  

We use biomass energy for the generation of electricity, thermal energy, and biofuels. Different forms of biofuels, such as biogas, biodiesel, and bio-ethanol, help minimize the demand for traditional gasoline products while also reducing the amount of transportation-related greenhouse gases emitted. Ethanol is made from corn and sugarcane, while biodiesel is made from rapeseed, soy, and oil palm.   

Biomass feedstock becomes biobased products, electric power, heat, and liquid fuels, making it extremely versatile. Although burning biomass produces carbon dioxide emissions, plant regeneration consumes an equal amount of carbon dioxide, which we believe balances the atmosphere. Since animals or plants can live virtually anywhere, bioenergy is a form of renewable energy that we can incorporate worldwide.  

Which Is Cheaper: Nonrenewable or Renewable Energy? 

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a report in 2020 that shows renewable power is becoming increasingly cheaper than fossil fuel for electricity generation. In fact, onshore wind power and solar photovoltaics are now the most affordable options in energy production.  

Products that were once too costly to be practical for consumer use have been plummeting in price. This new affordability is accredited to simple things like developers gaining more experience in the field, improved renewable technologies, enhanced energy efficiency capabilities, increased demand, and competitive supply chains.   

Using solar photovoltaics and onshore wind to replace coal could save up to $23 billion in annual power system costs and reduce yearly carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 gigatons. Solar PV costs are now one-fifth lower than the least expensive fossil-fuel source, and onshore wind power offers even greater savings. Nuclear, hydro, geothermal, and biomass energies are making their way into the financially competitive spotlight as well, significantly based on location  

So how does renewable energy save you money? In addition to lowering your utility bills, many states and utility providers offer various green energy plans, incentives, credits, and discounts. Contact your local energy provider to learn about your options. Consider combining multiple energy technologies to create your own customized renewable energy system and reap the most significant savings on your utility bills.  

What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Renewable Resources?  

Renewable Resources Weighing Pros and Conssource

Each alternative energy source has its advantages and disadvantages. Here, we’ll take a look at the positives and negatives of renewable resources as a whole.   

We already covered many of the major pros of using renewable energy: We can never deplete these natural resources, they will prolong the lifespan of fossil fuels and create fewer environmental impacts, and will save you money on your utility bills.   

That sounds pretty great already, but there’s more. Renewable energy jobs are on the rise worldwide. China is the clean energy employment leader providing around 4+ million jobs in the industry. However, the United States is also making tremendous growth. Americans working in the wind industry now double that of coal mining, and the solar industry employs more Americans than the U.S. wind industry. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Renewable Energy? 

While each sustainable energy option is unique, there are some prominent areas of concern.  

  • Wind turbines located within particular habitats and migratory paths pose the threat of potential injury or death to flying birds and bats. However, to put this into perspective, large windows and skyscrapers are equally hazardous.  
  • Several renewable resources carry the concern of intermittency, which is a disruption caused by the inconsistency of the resource itself. For example, the wind blows at various speeds, and the sun doesn’t always shine. However, our increased ability to store energy using batteries or even solar PV cells has improved renewable energy reliability. Some batteries have the capacity to store up to 100 megawatts, which is equal to 100,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh). The average U.S. household used around 877 kWh per month in 2019. 
  • Wind turbines can be noisy, although most onshore wind farms are in rural, non-residential areas or offshore where the noise isn’t a problem. Newer designs have proven to be much quieter, resulting in fewer noise complaints. 
  • If you aren’t in the right climate or region, you may not have access to specific renewable energy resources. For example, if you don’t live near an ocean, you don’t have tidal energy access. Fortunately, there are so many alternative energy resources to choose from that viable options are available everywhere.  
  • Hydroelectric power can disrupt waterways and has the potential to negatively affect wildlife by changing migration paths, water levels, and currents. Even so, hydroelectric power is one of our most eco-friendly sources for electricity generation.  
  • The large machinery necessary to capture ocean energy can disturb delicate ecosystems, although the process of capturing ocean energy is very clean. 

How Do You Switch To Renewable Energy?  

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Most will agree that the benefits of using renewable resources far outweigh the drawbacks, not to mention that improved technology is emerging to regularly address and eliminate the negatives.  

You now know why making the switch to renewable energy is vital to our future. But how can you go about making the change?  Ask about the green energy product and plan options available and get started on your new sustainable lifestyle today. 

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