In today’s article, we’ll talk about the difference between renewable energy and non-renewable energy.
The announced fight against global warming due to greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions and energy, is becoming one of the major challenges of our modern society. To meet this challenge, the ecological and energy transition must enable the transformation of our practices and lifestyles, with a view to sustainable development. It is the new development model that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” and consists of linking three areas that are both complementary and often rival: economic development, environmental protection, and social well-being. To achieve this, renewable energies are at the heart of the energy transition, constituting the energy mix and the exit of fossil fuels.
On our planet Earth, there are inexhaustible sources of energy, sources of natural energy that never runs out on the scale of human time, such as:
- Solar energy (photovoltaic and thermal),
- wind energy
- Thermal energy
However, there are sources that are non-renewable energy sources such as oil, coal and gas, including limited deposits may be depleted.
Renewable energies are final forms of energy (electricity, heat or fuel) obtained from renewable energy sources. Unlike conventional, fossil or nuclear energy sources, renewable primary energy sources are inexhaustible in the very long term, because they arise directly from natural phenomena linked to the sun, the wind, hydraulic flows, the natural heat of the earth, etc. Their consumption does not limit their future use. In other words, they reconstitute faster than they are used. Renewable energies are based on flows, as opposed to conventional energies that rely on stocks from limited deposits of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) or fissile (uranium, plutonium, etc.)
The main advantages of renewables are that they can be produced locally and at a limited cost to the environment, compared to the exploitation of fossil fuels. However, there are a number of challenges in renewable energy: high operating costs, storage problems and difficulties in connecting to the grid.
Renewables are generally defined as energy production methods that could be produced from the environment in a sustainable manner, that is, without consuming resources that cannot regenerate on a human time scale. In other terms, it is produced by a source that nature constantly renews, unlike an energy dependent on sources that run out.
Renewable energies contain different forms, but they come from two sources:
- The Sun: it emits radiation transformable in electricity or heat, it generates zones of unequal temperatures and pressure at the origin of the winds, it generates the water cycle, it allows the growth of plants and the generation of the biomass; sol, recover the internal heat from the surface.
Renewable energies are becoming increasingly popular in the face of global warming problems. Here are the most widely used energy:
- Wind energy: it is an energy that draws its source from the wind;
- Hydropower: it comes from waterfalls;
- Solar energy: there is photovoltaic and thermal solar energy;
- Geothermal energy: it is drawn from the depths of the Earth as thermal waters, volcanoes, and geysers;
- Tidal energy: although it is produced by the force of tides, it remains difficult to exploit.
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An energy source is considered non-renewable because of a very long training process that often takes millions of years. These fossil fuels are derived from the decomposition of organic matter (plants and animals) in the soil in anaerobic environments, that is, in the absence of oxygen. Obtaining energy from these fuels involves in most cases combustion that emits CO2. Since the 20th century and the massive exploitation of fossil fuels, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased considerably. This abnormal CO2 concentration amplifies the greenhouse effect and causes climate change.
Non-renewable energy uses resources that are naturally limited and is not able to renew itself. These are raw materials that cannot be reproduced.
Coal, gas, oil and nuclear energy are non-renewable energies, also known as fossil fuels.
What are fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels are all carbon rich fuels, essentially hydrocarbons, that result from the methanization of living things that have been dead and buried in the earth for millions of years, sometimes up to 650 million years.
According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuels are the most used primary energy in the world:
Coal has been exploited intensively since the first Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. There are several varieties of coal classified according to their carbon content: anthracite, coal, lignite and peat. Each type of coal is formed under special conditions, but they all take several hundred million years to form, hence their classification as fossil and non-renewable energies.
Coal is a particularly cheap source of energy, accessible at a very advantageous price. In some countries, coal is still widely used in power plants, especially in India or China.
Also, its demand is constantly increasing. However, coal is a significant source of pollution and its combustion leads to CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, which is responsible for global warming.
This fossil energy is used in the manufacture of fuels and plastics. World oil consumption is also 82.4 billion barrels, and reserves are expected to run out in 40 years. However, other resources do exist, but they are too deep in the ground to be really exploitable.
This is the energy you may use at home to heat or cook your food; power plants also generate electricity from this energy. Natural gas is particularly limited, its consumption will no longer be allowed in 70 years, due to the depletion of resources.
Nuclear energy is generally mistakenly considered clean energy. Of course, it emits little CO2 compared to conventional fossil fuels but other factors are to be considered for its classification. For example, uranium ores are present in limited quantities in the soil, making them a non-renewable source of energy.
Nuclear energy is produced in nuclear power plants that use enriched uranium; a radioactive element involved in nuclear fission. This process heats the water at a high temperature, which will then be converted into steam and will allow the creation of electricity. Uranium is found in nature, especially in soil, animals, humans, plants and water. However, it is only available in very small concentrations as well, its extraction is particularly expensive and weighs on the price of electricity produced from nuclear power. Nevertheless, nuclear energy remains one of the cheapest energies to produce.
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