We all use energy each day to do things like power our homes and fuel our cars. To get that energy, we depend on different renewable and non-renewable energy resources. What is renewable energy and how is it different than nonrenewable energy? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of both sources?
What Is Renewable Energy?
What Are Examples of Renewable Energy Resources?
My favorite source of renewable energy is wind. Wind is actually generated when the sun heats the land and causes the warmer air to rise. As the warm air rises it leaves room open and cooler air nearby wants to rush in and fill the opening. As this happens, the air behind gets sucked in as well and we feel this as wind. So technically speaking wind power is a form of solar power. Wind power is a source of renewable energy because the amount doesn’t diminish over time since we can always get more. This is because wind power depends on the sun which we will always have, that is until it blows up, at which point we will have bigger problems. But that won’t happen for a very long time time so we’re good for now!
What Are Examples of Non-Renewable Energy Resources?
On the other hand, coal is a non-renewable energy resource. Coal forms when dead organic matter such as plants becomes buried underground at high pressure and temperature for millions of years. In order to use coal as an energy resource we have to burn it. Since coal is not being made by the Earth over and over again and we have less of it as we use it coal is a non-renewable energy resource. Oil is another example of a non-renewable energy resource. Similar to coal, oil is made when dead organic matter gets trapped below the Earth for millions of years. Not only does it take a very long time to make, but it also must be burned in order to be used as an energy resource, so we have less of it as we use it.
Now there’s a few reasons why identifying renewable energy can be confusing. The first is that in certain cases an energy resource could be considered renewable while in other cases that same energy resource may be considered a non-renewable energy resource. For example, we can create hydrogen from water and use it as a fuel source. Since using hydrogen reforms all the water used to make it, there is no loss of water as we use hydrogen power and we will also always have water, so in this case hydrogen is renewable. However, we can also create hydrogen from fossil fuels and as we learned fossil fuels are a non-renewable energy resource, so in that case hydrogen would be non-renewable as well.
To make things just a bit more confusing, sometimes a source of energy could be considered renewable or not based on the technology we use to harness it rather than the energy source itself. A good example of this is nuclear power. Nuclear power works by breaking apart atoms. As this happens, a massive amount of heat and energy is released that can be used to generate electricity. Currently, the technology we use to make this process happen depends on a metal called uranium as its source of atoms, but uranium is a non-renewable material. If we could one day develop technology that uses a renewable source of atoms, nuclear power could be a renewable energy resource.
Does Renewable Energy Create Air Emissions?
Some people get confused with renewable energy resources and non-renewable energy resources based on if it creates air emissions. While most renewable energy resources don’t create air pollution, some of them do; and while most non-renewable energy resources create air emissions, some of them don’t. This makes renewable energy a more sustainable option. Biofuels are an example of a renewable energy resource that creates air pollutants while nuclear power is an example of a non-renewable energy resource that doesn’t create air pollutants. So renewable energy resources are not always emission free.
One last reason why it could be hard to figure out if an energy resource is renewable or not is because people get confused with natural resources. A natural resource is something that comes from nature, for example trees, rocks, and water. Something that is not a natural resource doesn’t come from nature, for example, plastic. Since nature has so many different ways to renew resources, all of our renewable energy resources are also natural resources.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Renewable energy and non-renewable energy resources both have their advantages and disadvantages. Renewable energy resources have the advantage of being better for the environment and healthier for people as well. They create less air emissions, less waste, and use less water. Non-renewable resources often create air pollutants while being used and the process to obtain non-renewable resources is often destructive on the environment in animal habitats. Renewables do have an impact on animals and the environment as well although the impact is usually much lower. Renewable energy technology is usually more expensive to build than non-renewable energy but since renewable energy sources are usually free, they may be able to provide overall less expensive energy.
One benefit non-renewable energy typically has over some renewable energy resources is they are more predictable to use. While we have a pretty good idea of when it’s going to be sunny and windy, it can be hard to predict just how sunny or windy it will be. Certain non-renewable energy resources can easily be stored for a long time, so if our energy demand increases we can easily use the resources we stored to generate more energy and match our energy needs, without first having to find more resources or waiting for the wind to blow. Being able to meet our energy needs is one of the most important parts of our energy systems and this is one of the main reasons we still use non-renewable energy resources even though they can be bad for the planet and will one day it run out.
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