What is The Main Difference Between Renewable and Non Renewable Energy?
When you compare these two energy types, it's easy to see the rationale for replacing fossil fuels with cleaner and more efficient energy sources. However, it's also clear this change will not happen overnight.
The list of non renewable energy sources includes oil, gas, and coal which are in the category of fossil fuels. These energy resources were formed in the earth from decaying plant matter and the pressure of water and soil that occurred over millions of years.
The heat from the earth's core and the pressure of soil and rock formed priceless fossil fuels that allowed us to develop our civilizations as we know them today. Fossil fuels are easy to use because burning those fuels releases energy in the form of heat.
The heat energy released by combustion of fossil fuels can be used to drive turbines, power cars, light and heat our homes. For generations, technology was focused on ways to efficiently use the heat energy of fossil fuels to improve the quality of our lives.
One problem with fossil fuels is that we keep using more and more of these resources. This is due to population growth but also due to demands for ever increasing creature comforts.
Our Great Grandmother cooked on a wood stove or a coal fired stove but today we cook with electricity, natural gas or propane gas with just the turn of a switch or dial.
Another problem is that the fossil fuels contained beneath the earth's crust are finite in supply. Oil, coal and gas are not being replaced by the earth. Experts have predicted oil will be in short supply within 60 years.
As the amount of oil available begins to decline, prices will spike out of the reach of many people. Already, the veins of the hardest coal, anthracite, are becoming scarce.
Oil and Coal
But the biggest problem today with use of fossil fuels is the negative impact use of oil and coal have on the natural environment. Greenhouse gases emitted have already damaged the ozone layer that surrounds the earth's atmosphere.
The incidence of respiratory diseases has increased with each generation as we inhale the minute particles produced by burning fossil fuels.
We are degrading our earth's atmosphere, causing global warming and exposing ourselves to higher levels of UV rays from the sun - all because of our use of fossil fuels as an energy source. At the same time, our society cannot function without that energy.
For a time it was thought nuclear energy would replace fossil fuels in the future. Nuclear energy is non-renewable but creating power with nuclear fuel uses a low amount of fuel and new nuclear plants extend the use of the fuel even further.
The problem with nuclear power is the fear of radiation leaks and core meltdowns. It seems each time we are close to approving new nuclear power plants, there is a nuclear incident somewhere in the world. The fear and the damage caused by nuclear accidents has basically shut down our nuclear program.
No new nuclear plants have been built since the 1970's. Plants built to operate for 30 years have been re-licensed for additional years of operation but are not up to the latest in safety codes.
Nuclear Incident in Japan
The nuclear incident in Japan a year ago was perhaps the killing stroke to the potential for a world where nuclear energy is the norm. The incident in Japan showed clearly that even a modern nuclear plant built to the latest safety standards cannot be made fail safe.
The future of nuclear energy may lie in new technology that provides nuclear power produced on a smaller scale rather than in huge nuclear energy plants. One of the most promising developments has been a method that may neutralize the nuclear reaction at will. Currently, once a nuclear reaction has begun it proceeds for many years until it naturally ceases.
The danger and the costs of storing spent nuclear rods for decades is a major problem for creation of nuclear energy. Finding a way to stop the reaction or to use nuclear rods until the reaction was spent would go a long way to restoring confidence in the potential nuclear energy.
Renewable energy offers hope for the future. Wood is a source of renewable energy but the use of wood to create power or heat must be balanced with the time necessary to regrow forests that have been harvested.
In some countries, forests have been totally decimated by villagers using the wood for daily cooking fires. In others, clear cutting of forests have destroyed species of wildlife and changed the regional climate by removing forests that were natural buffers or barriers protecting the area.
Solar energy is the most well known renewable energy source today. From a solar cooker to a solar powered flashlight, many camping suppliers feature products powered by the sun. Solar panels have become cheaper to manufacture and smaller panels are found today that capture more energy from the sun than the larger panels sold ten years ago.
Wind turbines dot some landscapes today as well. These huge turbines placed on tall towers use the wind to power the turbine and create electrical power. There have been increasing environmental concerns about wind turbines both from a noise pollution standpoint and because they've been found to interfere with bird migrations.
The noise of a wind turbine is a low hum that may not be heard at all in a home very close with the wind tower but may be an irritating background noise in a home over a mile away. Locating wind farms offshore in areas where shallow ocean waters extend several miles from the shoreline may be the answer but installation costs are extremely high.
Hydropower and geothermal fields are also sources of renewable power. Hydropower is very efficient and produces low cost electricity. The location must meet rigorous standards for water flow and height variations and most of the best areas for dams and hydropower have already been used.
Geothermal fields can only produce power in certain areas as the geothermal activity is centered mainly around the Pacific basin.
When you compare renewable energy vs non renewable it's easy to see the future of renewable energy is bright. However, until the technology exists to fully utilize renewable energy sources we must rely on fossil fuels to provide the power we use today.