In the world of energy sources, there are two types of resources: renewable and non-renewable. But do you know the differences between renewable and non-renewable energy?
Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, are naturally replenished over time and considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly. On the other hand, non-renewable energy sources, such as oil, are finite and cannot be replenished, so their use must be managed appropriately.
In this article, we will tell you the differences between renewable and non-renewable energy and the advantages and disadvantages of each type. Finally, we will analyze the current status of renewable energies and the challenges they are facing toward its global implementation.
Trends in the use of renewable energy
Society’s interest in renewable energy sources has increased significantly in recent years. This is because renewable energy sources are seen as a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to non-renewable energy sources such as coal and oil.
Previously, non-renewable energy sources were used as primary energy sources and were considered more practical and cost-effective. However, renewable energy sources have begun to gain more prominence in recent years.
According to the International Energy Agency, global installed renewable energy capacity is expected to grow by more than 60% by 2026 compared to 2020. This would raise this capacity to more than 4800 GW, surpassing fossil and nuclear energy’s current capacity levels.
What are the differences between renewable and non-renewable energy?
Now, we will tell you the differences between renewable and non-renewable energy:
Renewable energy comes from non-finite resources that regenerate naturally once used. Some examples are water flowing through a dam, the sun, or the wind. On the other hand, non-renewable energy sources are finite and do not regenerate once used. Examples include coal, natural gas, and oil.
One of the biggest problems with non-renewable energy sources is that they can only be used for a limited time. The amount of coal, oil, and natural gas available is being depleted, and we must find other sources of energy before these resources disappear. Because of these concerns, more and more investments are being directed toward the development of renewable sources of energy.
Advantages and disadvantages of renewable and non-renewable energies
To understand the differences between renewable and non-renewable energy, knowing their advantages and disadvantages is essential.
Advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy sources
Some of the advantages of renewable energy sources:
- They are naturally replenished over time. This means we can use renewable energy sources for a long period without depleting the resource.
- They are considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly than non-renewable energy sources, associated with higher emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and other polluting substances.
- Using renewable energy sources can reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels, increasing the resilience of countries to fluctuations in its demand or prices.
- Renewable energy sources can create jobs and increase local economic activity in the countries implementing them.
Some of the disadvantages of renewable energy sources are:
- The efficiency of some renewable energy sources is lower than that of non-renewable energy sources.
- Because they are less efficient, more renewable energy sources are needed to produce the same amount of electricity as non-renewable. This can be problematic if energy demand is high and the sources are unavailable.
- The use of renewable energy sources requires a considerable initial investment.
- Some renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, are intermittent. Therefore, storage systems, such as batteries, are needed to maintain continuous demand from these sources.
Advantages and disadvantages of non-renewable energy sources
Some of the advantages of non-renewable energy sources are:
- These energy sources are more efficient as they have a longer development time than non-renewable energies on the market.
- Due to their current state of technological development, producing non-renewable energy sources may require a less initial investment in technology or infrastructure than renewable sources.
- Some developed transportation systems allow non-renewable energy sources to be easily transported to where they are needed. This allows for an efficient and reliable supply of energy to consumers.
Some of the disadvantages of non-renewable energy sources are:
- These energy sources are finite and, therefore, cannot be used indefinitely. The amount of non-renewable energy sources available will eventually run out in several years. Other energy sources need to be developed to replace them before that happens.
- Non-renewable energy sources generate, both in their extraction and consumption, high levels of pollution in the environment. Some examples are the fugitive emissions in the oil and natural gas extraction or the GHG emissions produced when producing electricity in thermoelectric power plants.
What types of renewable and non-renewable energy currently exist?
There are several methods for generating and harnessing energy from renewable sources, which are mentioned below:
- One method to obtain solar energy is photovoltaic (PV) cells. These use sunlight to generate electricity, which can be used to power homes and other buildings. On the other hand, solar thermal energy is used to generate thermal energy for heating and cooling facilities, for example, solar water heaters.
- Another method of harnessing energy from renewable sources is hydropower, which uses a flow of water, often from dams, to generate electricity. However, depending on the dam’s size, hydropower can be considered renewable or non-renewable. This is due to the environmental impact that the construction of large dams generates on an ecosystem, displacing not only a large number of animals and native flora but also, in some cases, communities living in the region. According to CAMMESA, energy from installations of less than 50 MW can be considered renewable, while power from other sources is considered non-renewable.
- Wind power is another method of generating energy from renewable sources. There are two ways to harness wind energy: onshore wind turbines, which are large towers with rotating blades built on land, and offshore wind turbines, which are built at sea.
- Biomass can generate heat and electricity and is often used where there is abundant organic plant matter, such as crop residues or trees.
- Another renewable energy method is biogas. This form of renewable energy comes from the degradation of waste, manure, or organic matter by bacteria. It can be used for both heating systems and electricity.
- Tidal energy is energy from waves and tides. These are generated when the ocean moves. This energy is used to turn turbines that produce electricity.
- Finally, geothermal energy harnesses the earth’s heat, often caused by volcanic activity.
The following chart summarizes the types of renewable and non-renewable energy currently available on the market and their main advantages and disadvantages:
Differences between renewable and non-renewable energy: summary. Own elaboration
Renewable energies: current situation
If we analyze the GHG emissions generated by human activities, fossil fuels are the most significant source (coal, gas, and oil). To comply with the commitments of the Paris Agreement, humanity must initiate an energy transition stage. This consists of changing the current energy system based on fossil fuels to a low-emission system based on renewable sources.
This is not only a change of energy source but also intelligent management of the distribution and dispatch networks and rational energy use. The electrification of industrial consumption and activities is repeatedly cited as a great opportunity. This is because replacing electricity produced from fossil fuels with renewable sources would significantly reduce emissions associated with these sectors.
The energy transition in the 21st century
One of the critical aspects to consider during the energy transition are the costs of each source, as this can significantly impact economic activity. In this sense, we are witnessing a true energy revolution with changes of great importance in the last decade (2010-2019):
- Solar energy reduced its costs by 80%.
- Wind energy reduced its costs by 60%.
Evolution Unit cost vs. use of renewable energies. Source: IPCC 2022 Climate Change Mitigation Report.
As shown in the image and as described in the latest IPPC report on Climate Change Mitigation, the adoption of these technologies also increased significantly.
There are clear examples in many countries that show the energy transition is leading to positive economic and social effects. The new sources are usually dispersed in the territories, which adds value to production and generates new local jobs.
The energy transition is already a reality, and we can only hope it will be accentuated and accelerated in the coming years. Another fundamental link will be reorienting fossil fuel subsidies for new environmentally friendly alternatives.
Challenges in the development of renewable energies
In this article, we discussed the differences between renewable and non-renewable energy, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and the current situation in the clean energy market.
As mentioned above, non-renewable energy sources are finite and cannot be used indefinitely. Humans must find alternative energy sources before these resources are exhausted. To reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy sources, the use of renewable energy sources represents a unique opportunity.
Renewable energy sources are more sustainable and environmentally friendly and can be used without compromising the scarcity of natural resources. These energy sources are also increasingly cost-effective, creating jobs and increasing local economic activity.
One challenge that must be overcome to increase the use of renewable energy sources is their scalability. For example, solar and wind are excellent renewable energy sources, but they take up much physical space and would not be appropriate in specific locations or uses. This can make achieving the scale needed to replace non-renewable energy sources difficulty.
On the other hand, the intermittency of renewables is also a significant challenge. Today, most of this energy is stored in expensive batteries for some consumers and made from non-renewable resources.
In conclusion, although using renewable energy sources poses some challenges, there are many reasons to be optimistic about its future.
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The BIOREC+ label
BIOREC+ is an ecolabel issued by CARBON NEUTRAL+ that guarantees that they are operating with renewable energy through Renewable Energy Certificates issued by the I-REC Standard. The “plus” is linked to the fact that 1/3 of the funds are used to ensure local impact through the financing of renewable energy projects in vulnerable areas. In this case, in Argentina, CARBON NEUTRAL+ is working with the Ecoandina Foundation to install solar water heaters in community kitchens and rural schools to replace wood-burning stoves.