Difference between renewable and non-renewable energies


Since ancient times, humans have used the resources made available by the Earth to survive and produce energy. Certain energy resources have a longer renewal time than others.

Resources used to produce energy are classified into two main categories: renewable and non-renewable sources. There are three main differences between both source types:

  • availability and renewal times;
  • production and transportation cost;
  • impact on the environment and human health.

Let us explore the differences between renewable and non-renewable energies and their main features.

What are renewable and non-renewable sources?

Renewable energy sources come from natural sources and continually regenerate themselves, which makes them nearly inexhaustible. In this group, we find:

  • Solar energy;
  • Wind;
  • Geothermal;
  • Hydropower;
  • Biomass.

With their low environmental impact, these sources bring notable benefits for both human health and the environment.

Conversely, non-renewable energy sources run out upon consumption and additional resources are required for their regeneration. Accordingly, they have an important environmental impact and contribute to pollution. In fact, the production of non-renewable energy releases waste consisting of carbon dioxide and toxic gases into the atmosphere.

While renewable energies fall entirely under natural sources not subject to depletion, non-renewable energies are in turn divided into two main categories: fossil and nuclear fuels. Let us now consider their production process and the extent of their environmental impact.

How are non-renewable energies produced?

Fossil fuels, also known as hydrocarbons, are the first type of non-renewable energy. By far the most widespread energy source in the world, fossil fuels arise from all the organic material that has accumulated inside the Earth over the centuries. The main hydrocarbons are oil and coal, but methane gas is also catching on for energy production.

To produce energy, fossil fuels must be burned, whereby they release a high amount of CO2 and other toxic agents into the atmosphere; despite this, their generation costs remain under those of renewable energy sources. As for nuclear fuels, the other non-renewable source, they arise from the extraction of uranium which is then processed and refined.

Growing concerns about air pollution and the scarcity of hydrocarbons have led many countries to ramp up their research efforts into renewable sources for energy production.

How do renewable energies differ?

First of all, not all energy produced from renewable sources is sustainable: in fact, not all of them are produced with zero impact. By way of example, producing energy from biomass might require burning wood or pellets, thus producing gaseous particles that disperse into the environment and contribute to pollution.

Moreover, there are other renewable energies with a lower impact on human health and the environment. For example, solar energy generates electricity from sunlight. To take advantage of the sun's energy, you can choose to install a photovoltaic system that produces electricity, or a solar system to heat water.

Enel Green Power is Enel Group's company devoted to the development, construction and management of energy generation activities from renewable sources all over the world, with operations in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. As a world leader in the clean energy sector, with a managed capacity of around 46 GW and a generation mix that includes wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric energy, Enel Green Power is at the forefront of the integration of innovative technologies in renewable plants, facilitating a new decarbonised and sustainable development model.