What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy?

When speaking of renewable energies or non-renewable energies, reference is made to sources of energy from which they arise and to the specific characteristics of each of them. Renewable energies are those that are inexhaustible or that can be renewed in a relatively short period of time, while non-renewable energy runs out and its renewal is very slow or may never occur.

What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy?

In this article we are going to delve into each one of them, we analyze what the different energy sources are in each case —that is, the types of renewable energy and the types of non-renewable energy—, the differences between each of them and more information on the energy transition.

What are renewable energies?

Renewable energies are those that do not run out or that regenerate quickly. The reserves of this type of energy are unlimited and sustainability is high. That is, they do not compromise the needs of future generations and ensure the needs of the present. Generally, renewable energy have a reduced ecological footprint.

Renewable energy sources

The most popular types of renewable energy are the following:

  • Solar energy: This type of energy is obtained directly from the sun. It can be used to produce electricity —through photovoltaic solar panels— or heat —through thermal solar panels—.
  • Wind power: This energy is harnessed from the wind and used to generate electricity.
  • Hydraulic energy: The energy, in this case, is obtained from rivers and freshwater streams. The water is stored in dams and electricity is obtained through turbines and generators.
  • Seawater energy: This energy is obtained from the force of the tides.
  • wave or wave energy: The energy obtained comes from the waves.
  • Biogas or biomass energy: It is energy that is extracted from organic matter.
  • Geothermal energy: In this case, the energy contained in the interior of the Earth is used.
  • bioethanol energy: This energy is obtained through the fermentation of vegetable products. This organic compound is suitable for the automotive industry.

What are non-renewable energies?

Non-renewable energies are those that come from energy sources that run out and are not renewed or that they may take a long time to do so. Reserves are therefore limited and sustainability is generally very low. And it is that today there are beginning to be many resources that are no longer available. The ecological footprint generated by non-renewable energies is much greater than that of non-renewable energies. Many of them are based on combustion, which generates COtwo and other polluting elements responsible for the ozone layer or even radioactive waste.

non-renewable energy sources

The most used types of non-renewable energy are:

  • Coal: It is one of the most used energies today. Coal is used to generate electricity, to produce steel, to make cement, for the production of fossil fuels…
  • Petroleum: The most common uses of oil are for transportation, for industrial energy, for heating and lighting, as lubricants, and for other uses in the petrochemical industry.
  • Gas: Its uses are for heating, domestic hot water (DHW), for cooking, for gas pipelines, for air conditioning and for electricity generation, among others.
  • radioactive energy: This is used to obtain electricity, mainly in nuclear power plants, but also for various medical processes of diagnosis and treatment of diseases, for archaeology, biology and other branches unknown to society, in general.

What is the energy transition

We have already talked about renewable and non-renewable energy and we have seen that the first of them come from clean and inexhaustible energy sources. They do not produce greenhouse gases and its manufacturing and maintenance costs are increasingly reduced. Its growth is unstoppable and necessary for the future of humanity and the planet. The path to the energy transition is getting closer. This has to do with the implementation of mechanisms that implement climate-neutral economies in an equitable way, such as the use of renewable energies, but also decarbonization and the transition from power plants to networks with a new service for consumer focused on smart grids. The goal of the energy transition is reduce global warming below 2 degrees with respect to pre-industrial levels and, if possible, limiting it to 1.5 degrees. In December 2015, an international agreement was signed in Paris that set this goal before the end of the century.

Solar energy, the cheapest electricity

Much has been said about the profitability of one type of energy compared to another, that is, renewable and non-renewable energy. Although it is true that until recently non-renewable energies were more profitable due to the amount of energy they produce, the truth is that today the data is changing. Energies such as wind, hydraulic and photovoltaic solar energy have become very profitable energies due to their low maintenance cost and excellent results. According to data published in the latest report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), new renewable energy generation projects are becoming cheaper than existing coal-fired power plants. On average, solar PV and onshore wind power is cheaper than maintaining many of the coal-fired power plants currently in operation.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) also demonstrated in its latest report Energy Outlook 2020 what solar energy produces the cheapest electrical energy of history, even more than that of coal power plants or nuclear power plants.

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