How Is A Renewable Resource Different From A Nonrenewable Resource Quizlet?

Renewable and nonrenewable resources are two categories used to classify natural resources based on their ability to replenish themselves over time. Renewable resources can regenerate naturally over time, while nonrenewable resources exist in a fixed amount and cannot be replenished once they are depleted. Understanding the difference between these two types of resources is important for sustainability.

Renewable resources include materials such as trees, water, and wind energy. They are naturally replenished, through biological reproduction or other natural processes, at a rate comparable to human consumption. As long as they are not overused, they can last indefinitely.

Nonrenewable resources exist in a finite amount and take a very long time to form naturally. Fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal are prime examples. Once depleted, they cannot be replaced in a short period of time. Though the reserves are large, they will eventually dwindle if not adequately conserved and substituted.

Categorizing natural resources in this manner helps determine appropriate usage and informs conservation strategies. Renewable resources must be utilized at a sustainable rate, while nonrenewable resources need to be conscious of depletion and scarcity. Understanding these key differences is an important starting point for further discussion.

Renewable Resources

Renewable resources are those that replenish naturally over time at a rate equal to or greater than they are consumed.

Among the key renewable resources used for energy are:

Solar Energy

The sun radiates enormous amounts of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation that can be captured through solar panels and converted into electricity. Solar energy is constantly renewed through the ongoing process of nuclear fusion within the sun.

Wind Energy

Wind turbines can harness the kinetic energy of moving air to generate mechanical power and electricity. Wind is generated by the sun’s heat creating air pressure differences and is an essentially limitless renewable energy source.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy taps heat energy from within the earth’s core to produce steam and heated water that can generate electricity. This thermal energy emanates from radioactive decay and residual heat from earth’s formation and is constantly replenished.

Nonrenewable Resources

Nonrenewable resources are natural resources that cannot be readily replaced by natural means at a quick enough pace to keep up with consumption. Nonrenewable resources come out of the ground as liquids, gases, and solids. The most notable nonrenewable resources are fossil fuels, minerals and metals.

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas take millions of years to form naturally and their reserves are being depleted much faster than new ones are being made. Fossil fuels are the remains of ancient biomass that have been compressed and heated under layers of sediment over millions of years. We are using them at an alarming rate for energy, heating, transportation and manufacturing. Since they cannot be replenished in a short time frame, fossil fuels are considered nonrenewable.

Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic solids with a defined chemical composition and crystal structure. Minerals are mined from the earth and used for various purposes, from jewelry to industrial applications. Examples of nonrenewable minerals include diamonds, gold, silver, tin, iron ore, sand, gravel and many more. They take extremely long periods of time to form naturally, so they are essentially fixed resources.

Metals such as copper, aluminum and iron are nonrenewable resources obtained by mining ore deposits. Extracting and refining metals from mineral ores is energy-intensive and has environmental impacts. Like minerals, reserves of metal ores are slowly being depleted over time as they are consumed for industrial, technological and domestic uses at a faster pace than they can be replenished.

Rate of Replenishment

One of the key differences between renewable and nonrenewable resources is the rate at which they replenish. Renewable resources are naturally replenished over relatively short periods of time. The sun, wind, and rainfall that produce renewable energy are continuously occurring natural cycles. Plants and trees used for biomass energy regrow in a matter of years. And animals reproduce offspring. This allows renewable resources to be continually harvested and used.

Nonrenewable resources, on the other hand, take an extremely long time to form naturally. Fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas develop over millions of years. Minerals take extensive geologic processes to create. Once depleted, they are essentially gone forever on human timescales. This finite availability means nonrenewables must be carefully managed to extend their lifetime as long as possible.

The renewable replenishment rate gives them a distinct sustainability advantage over nonrenewables. As long as renewable resources are not used up faster than their natural rate of replenishment, they can serve as permanent energy sources.

Environmental Impact

One of the main differences between renewable and nonrenewable resources in terms of environmental impact is sustainability. Renewable resources like wind, solar, and hydropower produce little to no pollution when converted into energy. Some types of biomass do produce carbon emissions when burned, but the carbon released is recaptured when new biomass grows. Overall, most renewables are considered carbon-neutral or low carbon.

On the other hand, nonrenewables like oil, natural gas, and coal produce significant amounts of pollution, including greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, when extracted and burned. These emissions contribute heavily to climate change and environmental degradation. Extracting nonrenewables also creates pollution – oil spills, habitat destruction, contaminated water sources, etc. So while renewable energy sources are much more sustainable long-term, nonrenewables can have serious environmental consequences with continued use.


One key difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources is availability. Renewable resources like solar, wind, and hydropower will not run out. The fuel sources for renewable energy are continuously replenished and will be available for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, nonrenewable resources like oil, natural gas, and coal are limited in supply. There is a finite amount of these resources available on Earth. Once the economically recoverable reserves of nonrenewable resources have been completely extracted and used, they will be depleted. This makes nonrenewables unsustainable long-term energy solutions.

The fact that renewable resources will never run out gives them a distinct advantage over nonrenewables. As long as the sun shines and the wind blows, the fuel sources for renewables will be available. The limited quantity of nonrenewables means they could potentially become scarce and much more expensive over time as supplies begin to dwindle.


When it comes to cost, nonrenewable resources like coal, oil, and natural gas have historically been cheaper than most renewable resources. This is because the infrastructure, technology, and processes surrounding fossil fuel extraction and use are well-established and have benefited from decades of refinement and economies of scale.

However, costs for renewable energy like solar and wind have dropped dramatically in recent years. According to Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis, the cost to develop utility-scale solar and wind projects has declined by 90% and 71%, respectively, over the last decade. This is driven by factors like improvements in technology, manufacturing scale, falling equipment prices, and competitive bidding. As a result, renewables are increasingly cost competitive with conventional energy sources.

Many experts predict renewable energy costs will continue to decrease in the years ahead, while fossil fuels may face cost increases as more difficult oil, gas, and coal reserves need to be tapped. Government incentives like tax credits can also help make renewables more cost-competitive in the near-term as markets continue to evolve. So while nonrenewable resources currently enjoy a cost advantage in most cases, sustained cost declines for renewables are shifting the economics increasingly in their favor.


Nonrenewable energy sources like oil, natural gas, and coal are generally more reliable than renewable energy sources at this time. This is because fossil fuels can be extracted and transported whenever needed to meet energy demands. Renewable sources like solar and wind power are intermittent – they are dependent on the sun shining or wind blowing.

For example, solar panels don’t produce any electricity at night, so energy storage or backup generation is needed. And output from wind farms varies based on wind speeds, which are not consistent. This intermittency can make integrating large amounts of renewables complex for grid operators.

However, technical advancements and grid upgrades are improving the reliability of renewables. Solutions like advanced forecasting of renewable generation, demand response technology, energy storage, and greater interconnectivity between grids are helping to smooth out the variable renewable supply.


One key difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources is their potential for growth. Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower have seen tremendous growth in recent years as technology improves and costs decline. In contrast, most nonrenewable sources are stagnant or declining as finite reserves get used up.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable energy accounted for over 65% of new electricity capacity added globally in 2019. Solar and wind capacity is expanding rapidly across the world. The IEA projects renewables will supply 30% of global power by 2024, up from 26% today.

Meanwhile, nonrenewables like oil, natural gas, and coal face depletion of existing reserves or political/environmental restrictions on further development. U.S. crude oil production peaked in 2019 and has declined since. Coal-fired power generation in the U.S. has fallen over 40% in the last decade. Overall, the share of fossil fuels in global energy mix is projected to continue declining in the long run.

In summary, renewable energy sources are positioned for robust growth in the coming decades while nonrenewable sources face more limited upside. This divergence highlights a key distinction between infinite, replenishable resources and finite, extractive ones.


Test your knowledge on the key differences between renewable and nonrenewable resources with this 5 question quiz:

  1. Which type of resource replenishes naturally over time?
    A. Renewable
    B. Nonrenewable
  2. Which type of resource has a finite supply?

    A. Renewable
    B. Nonrenewable
  3. Which type of resource causes less harm to the environment?
    A. Renewable

    B. Nonrenewable
  4. renewable resources generally cause less harm to the environment compared to nonrenewable resources.

  5. Which type of resource is generally more expensive?
    A. Renewable

    B. Nonrenewable
  6. Which type of resource can replenish faster than it is consumed?
    A. Renewable
    B. Nonrenewable

How did you do? Understanding the key differences between renewable and nonrenewable resources is important knowledge for making informed energy choices.

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