SGE Blog

Renewable vs. Non-renewable Energy: Powering the World in a Greener Way

We now rely on electricity for almost every aspect of our lives – without it, we can’t cook our food, light up our homes, keep in contact with our loved ones, work, or enjoy many of the entertainment options electronic devices provide.

Considering how essential it is, we still rely largely on non-renewable resources to produce it – some of which are predicted to be depleted within the next 40 years, unless we make a change. Renewable energy presents an alternative, but it also isn’t without its faults. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into both.

Non-renewable Energy

As we touched upon earlier, it goes without saying that we can’t rely on non-renewable energy resources forever – because they’re non-renewable.

Another substantial drawback of non-renewable energy sources is the carbon footprint. The combustion of fossil fuels produces a lot of greenhouse gasses, accelerating human-induced climate change. In fact, in the US and other western countries, energy and heat production is the single largest producer of greenhouse gasses because of the high share of non-renewable energy sources being used.

Compared to that, green energy production has a much smaller carbon footprint. Although some greenhouse gasses are released in the production of solar panels, wind turbines or any other equipment, they are carbon-neutral through their lifetime. Additionally, as our energy supply will shift more toward renewable energy, even production emissions are likely to be lower, as little energy from non-renewable sources will be used to make them.

Another threat posed by non-renewable energy sources is air pollution. According to the WHO, our current air pollution levels (especially in cities) are responsible for millions of premature deaths and cost billions of dollars. With renewable energy, we can decrease our contribution to those numbers and lower them.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy has many benefits, which make it arguably environmentally superior to non-renewable energy. However, it’s important not to idealize green energy production, because it isn’t without its faults and environmental challenges either.

First, for the benefits. Green energy can be of great benefit to the community and the economy. As fossil fuels get more and more depleted, their price is due to skyrocket as the supply won’t match the demand, making the purchasing of fuel for non-renewable energy production extremely expensive. At this point, it will be essential for our economy to have a solid system of renewable energy production to rely on, as non-renewable energy will become more and more expensive. In general, renewable energy is also much less likely to be affected by price spikes geopolitical crises or disruptions in the supply chain, which makes for a stable supply at a consistently low cost. You’ll appreciate this even more if you invest in at-home energy sources and become self-sufficient.

As we mentioned above, the majority of the investment into renewable energy goes into construction – but the maintenance of facilities is also important. This creates more jobs in the local community where the power plant is located. As most renewable energy is sourced within the country where it is used – often even in the same town or city – the money local communities pay for utilities if they opt for a green energy supplier is poured directly back into the community and jobs for local people. Currently, the renewable energy sector employs 11 million people worldwide and the number is only set to grow.

Once you decide to go green with your energy, you’ve got two main options to choose from. You can either switch to a green energy supplier or invest in domestic green energy (or both, using each partially, as not all domestic green energy production methods create energy 24 hours a day). Depending on your situation, one might be better than the other, so consider how your home is built and where you live. A green energy supplier works similarly to a regular one – except the energy comes exclusively from renewable sources.

However, there are also some environmental concerns related to renewable energy production – it’s not just all positive.

Environmental Concerns of Renewable Energy

The exact environmental concerns related to green energy production depend on the exact method of energy generation.

While wind turbines are a great way to harness nature’s power and turn it into energy, they’re also very loud and intrusive to local wildlife. Birds especially can be in danger of flying into the turbine, although other animals are affected too – some don’t deal well with the noise levels, some lose their habitats for space to be made for turbines.

Solar panels are very helpful in sunny areas but will just be a waste of space in cloudy regions. It’s best if they’re placed on building rooftops but sometimes, they’re spread through meadows or fields instead, taking up land where nature could blossom.

Geothermal energy makes use of Earth’s hot water springs – they’re particularly common in countries like Iceland. Sometimes, this does involve drilling into the Earth’s surface to reach these springs, which can potentially have some negative environmental impacts. Otherwise, the exact impacts vary depending on the exact technologies used.

Of the renewable energy production methods, biomass raises most environmental concerns. It works similarly to fossil fuel powerplants, also raising some similar issues. The combustion method releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere just the same. However, it remains less damaging as biomass is a more sustainable resource.

Hydroelectric power involves the building of dams over rivers, altering the natural environment. This can (but doesn’t always) have serious impacts on native wildlife. Fish and other water species can, for example, be injured or killed by turbine blades. The reservoir above the dam is also likely to develop more algae, which can lead to the extinction of native aquatic plants. Lastly, segments of the river down from the dam can dry out, if too much water is stored behind the dam.

Although renewable energy is more sustainable than non-renewable energy, all energy production has its environmental drawbacks. As with every new or developing technology, improvements take time.  As more data becomes available, changes are being made to improve the performance of non-renewable energy sources and minimize the negative impacts.  In the mean time, these are important factors to keep in mind.  It signals that while green energy is the sustainable choice to make, it’s even more sustainable to reduce our energy consumption in the first place.