Which Energy Source Is The Best?

It might be difficult to definitively say what energy source is ‘the best’

It depends on how you define ‘best’, and there’s also a range of different factors and variables that might be difficult to measure or account for

So, what we’ve done in the guide below, is outline how some of the main energy sources might rate across several major energy indicators or measures, such as resource management and environmental impact, economic considerations, social impact, and practical considerations.


Summary – Which Energy Source Is The Best?

What might be concluded from the information below is that each energy source has it’s unique pros and cons to consider

As a few examples …

Renewable energy sources might rate well across some sustainability indicators, but they may have some practical drawbacks to consider

Nuclear energy may have some practical benefits, but some aspects of sustainability, as well as capital or operating costs can be a question

Fossil fuels may have some practical benefits, but there may be some sustainability issues to consider


Inclusions & Exclusions In This Guide

Firstly, it’s important to outline what we’ve completely or partially included and excluded in this guide.


The main inclusions in this guide are:

– Energy sources used for electricity generation


We’ve either partially or completely excluded a full analysis of the following factors in this guide:

– Energy sources used for transport (such as fuels), and also for heating and cooling (such as gases)


Ways To Measure Or Assess Which Energy Source Is ‘Best’

There could be many ways to measure or assess which energy source is ‘best’.

Below, we consider resource management and environmental impact, economics, social, and practical considerations.

But, one or all of the following factors could also be considered:

The cost of each energy source

The impact each energy source has on electricity prices

The quality or reliability of power supply/electricity supply each energy source delivers

The energy source that is used the most, has the highest production and consumption totals, or has the most potential for future growth

The energy source that is the most practical to use, and has the least technical limitations

The sustainability impact of each energy source

The social impact of each energy source

And, other factors – several of which we list in a separate guide


Resource Management, & Environmental Impact

We’ve put together a separate guide about which energy sources might be the most sustainable, specifically when it comes to resource management, and also environmental impact.

A very brief summary of what we outlined in that guide might include:


Renewable Energy Sources

May have several sustainability benefits

Some examples are that they use renewable resources, they may emit little to no greenhouse gases and air pollutants at the operation stage, and conversion of energy to electricity may result in no waste by-products

However, there are also a range of potential sustainability drawbacks to consider with different renewable energy sources too

Some types of bioenergy in particular may have several sustainability concerns


Nuclear Energy

Comes from uranium, which is considered a non-renewable resource. And, spent nuclear fuel is a waste by-product that needs to be managed

However, the use of nuclear fuel at nuclear reactors might emit little to no greenhouse gases and air pollutants


Fossil Fuels

Come from non-renewable resources, and might emit greenhouse gases and air pollutants during the combustion of fossil fuels

Fossil fuels like coal also have waste by-products like fly ash that need to be managed

However, new power plants might have devices and systems installed that capture or manage carbon and also air pollutants to varying degrees of effectiveness


Economic Considerations

Economic considerations include things such as:

Cost Of Capital

On a capital cost per kW basis …

Fuel cells, offshore wind, advanced nuclear, and coal with air pollutant controls may be most expensive

Gas/oil combined plants, solar PV, and onshore wind may be the cheapest


New fossil fuel power plants with environmental control measures, and air pollution and carbon capture devices and systems may make coal and other energy sources more costly. Regulations imposed on fossil fuels may also make it more costly.


Fuel Costs

Fossil fuel plants (for oil, coal, natural gas), and also nuclear reactors may have fuel costs to consider during operation

Renewables like solar and wind don’t have these fuel costs


Research & Development Costs

It might be hard to accurately quantify research and development costs


LCOE (Localised Cost Of Electricity) – Capital, Plus Operation Costs

In terms of LCOE per MWh …

Coal, biomass and nuclear may have some of the most expensive LCOE

Renewables like hydro, solar, and onshore wind may have some of the cheapest LCOE

But, LCOE can differ between countries, with different technology used, and with different types of setups


Cost To Provide Electricity As A Service

There may be some additional costs to consider when using renewable energy sources to provide electricity to the local power grid – particularly for variable/intermittent renewable energy sources

For example, some variable renewable energy sources require one or both of backup energy sources, and/or energy storage in the form of batteries.

There can also be costs to integrate the new energy source to the existing power grid.

Subsidies is not something we’ve mentioned here, but, subsidies, taxes, and other direct and indirect costs might be considered in the overall cost of each energy source.


Profitability For Investors 

Something we haven’t considered in this guide is the profitability of different energy sources for investors


Price Of Electricity For End Consumers

There might be a range of factors that impact the price of electricity for consumers between different cities and towns, with the type of energy source used being just one factor impacting that price

In some cases, taxes and levies for renewable energy can increase electricity prices in some places, but taxes aren’t always the main cause of electricity price increases

New fossil fuel power plants with carbon capture/storage technology, or air pollutant management technology, may also increase the price of electricity (where additional costs for this technology are passed onto end consumers)


Creation Of Jobs, & Employment

The number of people currently employed in fossil fuel related industries is significant

However, because of the labor intensity of renewable energy sources like Solar PV (compared to the capital intensity of some fossil fuel energy sources), and bioenergy, these energy sources may employ more people on a per unit basis (such as per dollar invested in the energy source)

Some renewable energy sources like some types of hydro might be less labor intensive during operation though

Some reports also indicate that the quality or type of the employment may also be better


Total Economic Value Of Different Energy Source Industries

Something we haven’t specifically examined in this guide is the total economic value that different industries are worth to the global economy, and also the national economy of different countries

Seeing as though fossil fuels make up the majority of primary energy use in many countries worldwide, it might be reasonable to assume that fossil fuels still contribute a significant amount of economic value to national economies and also the global economy


These guides contain more information on economic considerations for some of the different energy sources:

Cost Of Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels vs Nuclear Energy

Factors That Impact The Price Of Electricity

Do Renewables Create More Jobs Than Fossil Fuels?


Social Impact

Some social considerations might include:

Impact On Public Health & Safety

There may be various ways that the safety of different energy sources for humans and society can be measured

Air pollution (potentially impacting air quality and human health), emissions, and industry related workplace accidents for the different energy sources are examples

According to some sets of data, nuclear energy and some types of renewable energy might be some of the safest energy sources, whilst some fossil fuels can be some of the most harmful


This guide contains more social, and publish health and safety considerations for some of the different energy sources:

Which Energy Sources Are The Safest, & Which Ones Are The Most Harmful?


Practical Considerations

Some practical considerations might include:

Power Density

Nuclear and fossil fuels might have some of the best power density of all energy sources


Capacity Factor

Nuclear, geothermal energy, and natural gas might have some of the highest capacity factors of all energy sources


Variability & Intermittency

Variable energy sources can deliver power intermittently at certain times

Solar and wind energy might be examples of variable energy sources, as the consistency of their power delivery might fluctuate with weather conditions (such as whether the sun is out, or whether the wind is blowing)

In comparison, fossil fuels and nuclear energy might be reasonably stable energy sources, delivering more consistent power.

Other renewable energy sources like hydro energy and geothermal energy might deliver reasonably consistent power too, and have the potential to provide baseload power.

Variability and intermittency can impact other aspects of power supply too.

One example is how intermittency can be bad for grid stability (overloading the grid for example), and can impact the overall reliability or quality of the power supply.

As another example, variable energy sources like solar or wind might also need backup energy sources, or energy storage (such as batteries) – to meet base load and peak energy demand



Several reports indicate that conventional power sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear are all dispatchable energy sources i.e. they can be turned on or off to to match realtime demand



Some data sets show renewables and nuclear being much more efficient at energy to electricity conversion than most fossil fuels

However, there’s also some data sets that show fossil fuels being more efficient than solar energy specifically


Most Commonly Used Energy Sources

Fossil fuels are still the predominant energy sources worldwide for primary energy use and electricity generation

Renewable energy currently only makes up about 26% of global electricity


Most Commonly Used Renewable Energy Sources

Hydropower currently provides around 50% of global electricity provided by renewables – so, it’s a proven and established renewable energy source

Solar PV and wind energy (onshore might be more commonly used than offshore) are behind hydro energy, with bioenergy behind them

Energy sources like tidal energy and wave energy might be some of the least commonly used and more speculative renewable energy sources right now

Solar and wind energy might be two of the renewable energy sources projected to grow the most in the future

These energy sources may also get cheaper and see improvements in technology and performance over time

Some studies indicate that hydro, solar and wind are three of the key renewable energy sources going into the future


Potential To Scale Up

There might be questions over whether some energy sources can be scaled up beyond where they are at right now (in terms of new projects or additional energy production)

Hydro energy might be an example of an energy source with questionable potential to scale up


Other Miscellaneous Practical Considerations

Beyond what’s listed here, there can be other practical considerations to take into account, both generally, and for individual energy sources.

A few examples of practical considerations for individual energy sources might be:

Pumped storage hydro might have the ability to store surplus renewable energy

Solar energy might be one of the more versatile energy source in terms of how it can be used


More Information On Practical Considerations

This guide contains more practical considerations for some of the different energy sources:

Fossil Fuels vs Renewables vs Nuclear Energy: A General Comparison

Efficiency Of Different Energy Sources


Other Variables In Assessing The ‘Best’ Energy Source

Some other potential variables in assessing the ‘best’ energy source might be:

– Energy mixes, energy sectors, and energy projects differ between different cities and towns worldwide

A specific energy source may be better for some cities or towns than others

Just one example of this is how nuclear energy might be far more expensive in some countries than others, and therefore might be priced out of these countries


– Future developments (such as improvements in technology or other energy related factors) may change the performance, or set of pros and cons of each energy source over time


– Other variables

Other factors that may pay a role in determining the best energy sources are the budget/financial capacity of individual cities and countries, subsidies, exporting and importing between regions, the existing power grid and energy infrastructure (like transmission lines), and more 

We list some of those other variables in this guide





1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides


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