This is a very short guide that outlines the definitions of both renewable energy and non renewable energy
There’s also some clarifications of what they are in comparison to other types of energy, and some examples of different types of renewable and non renewable energy energy.
Definition Of Renewable Energy
There’s many slightly different definitions of renewable energy.
Most definitions include the following components … renewable energy:
Comes from a natural source or natural processes
Comes from a source, that when used, doesn’t deplete, or can regenerate very quickly (either immediately, or within the course of a human life time)
It is called renewable because, if you compare it to an energy source like fossil fuels, fossil fuels take hundreds or even millions of years to form from the buried remains of decayed plants and animals, that are exposed to heat and pressure over that time.
Once mined and used, these sources aren’t renewed quickly.
They can eventually present scarcity issues, and issues with depletion of resources.
Modern vs Traditional Renewable Energy
Traditional biomass, such as the burning of wood for heat and energy, is considered a traditional form of renewable energy.
Modern renewable energy is generally all other forms of renewable energy (including modern bio fuel and modern forms of waste-to-biomass conversion).
Different Types Of Renewable Energy (With Examples)
The different types of renewable energy are:
Solar (PV – photovoltaic, and thermal) – read more about the different types of solar in this guide
Wind (onshore, and offshore) – read more about the different types of wind in this guide
Hydropower (run-of-river, storage, pumped-storage) – read more about the different types of hydropower in this guide
Geothermal (steam, and water)
Read more about the different types of renewable energy in this guide.
Renewable vs Clean/Green vs Alternative Energy
There is a difference between renewable, and green or alternative forms of energy.
Nuclear is an example of an energy source that isn’t renewable (yet), because uranium has be mined to use it.
But, nuclear is far cleaner in it’s operation stage (in terms of emissions and pollution) than energy sources like coal and natural gas.
Bioenergy is another example of an energy source that may be renewable in some ways, but, where crops, trees, and other organic matter has to be planted and grown, there are questions over the use of other resources (land, water, fertilizer, pesticide etc.), pollution/emissions, waste produced, and overall how sustainable some methods of bioenergy production are.
Read more in this guide about what green energy is.
Alternative energy is usually just an energy form that is different from the conventional energy that is used in a particular sector.
For example, an alternative energy car might use renewable energy to power a hydrogen fuel cell car (as compared to a combustion engine car using petroleum or diesel).
Definition Of Non Renewable Energy
There’s many slightly different definitions of non renewable energy.
Most definitions include the following components … non-renewable energy:
Comes from non natural sources, or non natural processes (for example, oil has to be refined by man made processes)
Comes from a source, that when used, will deplete, or takes a long time to regenerate (more than the length of a human lifetime – usually hundreds, thousands or millions of years)
It’s called non renewable, because if you compare it to energy sources like wind and solar, these energy sources are natural and are available almost immediately for an infinite amount of time (as long as the wind is blowing and the sun is shining).
Non renewable energy sources in comparison may face scarcity and depletion issues over time.
Fossil fuels for examples take hundreds of thousands or million of years to form from the heat and pressure under the Earth’s surface, whilst uranium ‘has been thought to be produced in one or more supernovae over 6 billion years ago.
More recent research suggests some uranium is formed in the merger of neutron stars.
Uranium later became enriched in the continental crust’
Types & Examples Of Non Renewable Energy
They mainly consist of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas), and nuclear energy (from uranium):
Coal is a fossil fuel and there are different types of coal (black coal, and brown coal being two of the main types).
It is mined, processed, and then used for different application such as at a coal plant power stations to generate electricity
Crude oil and other liquids produced from fossil fuels are refined into petroleum products [via human processes] that people use for many different purposes.
We use petroleum products to propel vehicles (such as gasoline and diesel), to heat buildings, and to produce electricity (eia.gov)
Natural gas is a hydrocarbon fossil energy source that formed deep beneath the earth’s surface.
Once raw natural gas is processed, and the natural gas liquids are separated, various natural gas products can be created and used for many energy applications, such as heating and cooking, transport, and electricity generation.
If we take gas powered cars for example – A natural gas vehicle (NGV) is an alternative fuel vehicle that uses compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Natural gas vehicles should not be confused with vehicles powered by LPG (mainly propane), which is a fuel with a fundamentally different composition (wikipedia.org)
Uranium ore is mined from the ground, which is then processed and refined, before we can use it as a nuclear reactor fuel.
We use nuclear reactors for electricity generation (when uranium atoms are split).
An Asterisk With Nuclear & Uranium
Although uranium and nuclear are looked at as non renewable, there are potential technological breakthroughs that could significantly extend the supplies of uranium we have left.
Other Resources On Non Renewable Energy Sources